LA School District, fed up with kids being distracted by social media, is considering a cell phone ban

LOS ANGELES (Los Angeles Times/TNS) – Los Angeles school officials on Tuesday – fed up with children distracted by social media and concerned about abuses such as cyberbullying – are ready to join a growing number of school systems across the country that are banning the use of cell phones during the school day.

Supporters say a ban would lead to better learning, less bullying, distraction and anxiety – and more meaningful communication with peers and adults.

The proposal was led by Los Angeles Unified School District board member Nick Melvoin.

“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for years, just walking around campuses and seeing kids on their phones and in class with their AirPods in,” Melvoin said.

Co-sponsoring the resolution are board chair Jackie Goldberg and board member Tanya Ortiz Franklin. A fourth vote is needed to approve the measure in the seven-member body.

The resolution would not immediately trigger a ban. It directs staff to “develop and present to the public” a policy that prohibits students’ use of cell phones and social media “throughout the entire school day,” including lunch and recess. Input would be sought from “experts in the field, labor partners, staff, students and parents,” and details would be submitted to the school board for approval within 120 days.

Elements to be developed include different approaches for different age groups and a range of technologies, such as smartwatches.

Options being considered include offering cell phone lockers or pouches that would keep devices locked and inaccessible until tapped against a magnetic device when leaving campus. Technology can also be used to block access to social media platforms.

“More and more children are getting a phone at a younger age,” says Melvoin. “They bring them to campus. And then I don’t remember much telephone sales of medicines. Or coordinating fights or some of the cyberbullying.” Key evidence at confidential expulsion hearings sometimes includes text messages from students, he said.

The policy would come into effect in January 2025.

The largest employee unions did not immediately respond to the proposal last week.

However, some parents want their children to have cellphones for safety and communication, and school administrators say the ban could be difficult to enforce.

There are also parents and employees who support the proposal.

Terri Derrickson Barraza, a high school teacher in the district, wrote in a social media post that she “would like to see some sort of cell phone ban, BUT ONLY if the district is going to support the ban with logical consequences. If we implement a spineless ban purely for PR reasons, my job will only become more difficult.”

The resolution did not specify a penalty, but the most obvious response to a violation would be for a phone to be confiscated for a period deemed appropriate.

While Melvoin acknowledges that his own observations about cell phone harm are anecdotal, the board resolution cites research consistent with the proposed policy.

The resolution cites a national survey on drug use and health by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which found that among those born after 1995, anxiety increased 139% between 2010 and 2020, coinciding with the rise of smartphones and social media .

Researchers note that a correlation between two trends does not mean one causes the other.

Additionally, the U.S. Surgeon General wrote in a 2023 advisory that social media may be linked to a growing mental health crisis among teens.

The resolution also cites a 2016 Common Sense Media survey that found half of teens feel “addicted” to their phones. A 2023 survey of 200 students from the same group found that 97% of 11- to 17-year-olds used their phones during the school day.

The resolution also states that there is evidence that “limiting cell phone use and access to social media during the school day improves academic performance and has positive effects on student mental health.”

Districts and schools across the country have adopted policies that limit students’ smartphone use. In 2023, public schools in Florida began banning student phone use during class time and blocking social media access on district WiFi. Oklahoma, Kansas, Vermont, Ohio, Louisiana and Pennsylvania have introduced similar legislation, according to the resolution.

California Assembly Bill 3216, introduced in February, would require school districts to adopt a policy to limit or prohibit the use of smartphones by students at school or under the supervision of a school employee. The law would come into effect on July 1, 2026.