Looking around any classroom, you will find the disengaged student here or there, cell phone in hand hidden beneath the desk or behind a folder. The prevalence of this inattentive behavior is what sparked Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Los Angeles) to propose Assembly Bill 272, which would require all California school districts to either limit or restrict cell phone use. Although it may seem like a tyrannical attempt to ban all phones on campus, this bill will actually end up benefiting both California students and teachers alike.
The initial impression of the bill based on media headlines is that the measure enacts a statewide cell phone ban on school campuses. However, this idea misconstrues the bill’s true intent and purpose. Its wording purposefully leaves the question of how heavily to restrict cell phone usage to the governing body of each district.
Because of that, our school would most likely remain unaffected due to our preexisting cell phone policy, which disallows their use during class without explicit teacher permission.
On the other hand, it also forces districts that previously had no cell phone policy to restrict or even outright ban possession of a smartphone on campus grounds, an idea that may leave some disgruntled. Although schools have always had this option, the difference the bill makes is that all districts must have a policy that at least restricts usage.
The proposition of this bill is also partially influenced by France’s nationwide ban of cellular devices in elementary and middle schools. Additionally, it is backed by research: a 2015 study conducted by the London School of Economics and Political Science found that test scores improved significantly at schools that banned mobile phone use.
The same study also concluded that the most significant gains in test scores were found in the most disadvantaged and underachieving students. The researchers say these results suggest that these students are more likely to be distracted by phones than their high-achieving counterparts. By imposing a restriction or ban on cell phone usage, districts may be able to help close the divide between disadvantaged students and their peers.
Another researcher, Dr. Jean Twenge, influenced Muratsuchi’s decision. Her book, “iGen,” describes a positive correlation between social media usage and depression rates in teens.
A cell phone usage ban in classrooms and on campus could significantly reduce depression rates in teenagers across California, seeing as the majority of teens’ waking hours are spent on campus grounds.
Despite all of the research and statistics about potential benefits to students, there are still those concerned about the harm a cell phone ban could cause to students with medical needs or those who find themselves in an emergency situation.
The cellphone bill also covers these bases, stating that “a pupil would not be prohibited from possessing or using a smartphone under specified circumstances,” which include emergencies, with recommendation from a licensed medical practitioner or with permission from a teacher or administrator.
The final decision on how to implement the bill would come down to each district. Whether they choose to restrict or ban cell phone usage, the potential benefit to students is clear.
However, it still needs to pass the legislature. If it does, it will bring about a much-needed update to the outdated technology policies of districts statewide.