Bill to Require California School Districts to Limit or Ban Smartphone Use Makes Its Way Through State Assembly

The proposal cites a ban would improve student performance and avoid mental health problems

Classrooms across the state may soon be required to restrict or ban smartphones under a new bill making its way through the California State Assembly.

The bill, introduced by Assemblymember Albert Muratsuchi of Torrance, was sent to the State Assembly Education Committee for the second time Wednesday.

“Cell phones can be a distraction in the classroom, and there are social and emotional consequences to too much use,” said Muratsuchi.

While California school districts currently have the authority to prohibit or not prohibit smartphones in their schools, the new bill would require districts to adopt a policy that limits phone use in some capacity.

The smartphone restriction or ban would be in effect when students were “under the supervision and control” of teachers or staff.

Though, there would be instances that students would be allowed to use their phones, including in cases of emergencies, if a teacher gives permission, or if a licensed physician decides a phone is “necessary for the health or well-being” of a student.

The proposed ban stated that when students use their phones during classes, it “interferes with the educational mission of the schools, lowers pupil performance, particularly among low-achieving pupils, promotes cyberbullying, and contributes to an increase in teenage anxiety, depression, and suicide.”

In a released statement, Muratsuchi’s office said 95 percent of families with children as old as eight years old have smartphones. In 2013, that number was 63 percent.

The number of 14- to 17-year-olds who experience clinical levels of depression jumped more than 60 percent, according to the assemblymember’s office.

“According to studies, kids who are heavy users of social media are showing signs of depression and other mental health problems in greater numbers,” Muratsuchi said. “Studies have also shown that restricting cell phone use improves pupil performance.”

The assemblymember pointed to France, which in September 2018, adopted a nationwide ban on smartphones in elementary and middle schools.

Muratsuchi also referenced a study published in May 2015 by the London School of Economics and Political Science that showed test scores reportedly improve when schools banned smartphones.

Lastly, the bill discussed the 2017 book iGen by San Diego State University professor Dr. Jean Twenge. The proposal cited Twenge’s work, saying eighth graders “who spend 10 or more hours per week on social media are 56 percent more likely to describe themselves as unhappy than those who devote less time to social media.”

Under the bill, schools would be reimbursed for any costs associated with the restriction or ban, according to Muratsuchi’s office.

The bill was read for the first time on Jan. 24. It was referred to the State Assembly Education Committee on March 18, where it was amended and re-read over the following two days.

The bill’s next scheduled committee hearing is April 10, where if approved, it would move to the Appropriations Committee. If approved there, the State Assembly would then vote on the bill.

To read the bill in its entirety, click here.

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