California Bill Would Allow Schools to Limit, Ban Use of Smartphones on Campus

California Bill Would Allow Schools to Limit, Ban Use of Smartphones on Campus

Undated file photo of TikTok on a phone. (Photo credit: Yui Mok/PA Wire)

Travis Gillmore

Travis Gillmore

5/28/2024

Updated: 5/28/2024

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A bipartisan bill that would instruct public schools in California to develop policies to reduce students’ use of smartphones during the school day passed the state Assembly May 23.
Assembly Bill 3216—introduced by Republican Assemblyman Josh Hoover and co-authored by Democratic Assemblymen Al Muratsuchi and Josh Lowenthal—would order the governing bodies of school districts and charter schools to create such policies by July 1, 2026, and update the rules every five years, to limit or prohibit student access to smartphones while on school grounds. The bill was passed 69–0.
“Our bill is going to help by requiring schools to have conversations about limiting smartphone use during the school day,” Mr. Hoover told The Epoch Times May 24. “This will definitely ... give parents, students, and teachers a great opportunity to engage with that.”
He noted the prevalence of online bullying that is causing mental health issues for some students—with some subjected to abuse and humiliation and others targeted for not having accounts on certain platforms.
“The bullying issue is real, and the way that kids get bullied now is through their smartphones, it’s through social media,” Mr. Hoover said. “And it’s really important that we actually keep that at a minimum at school.”
Leeway is provided in the language of the bill so that schools across the state can develop unique regulations that best serve their students. For example, some districts could choose to lock phones in pouches during the school day, while others could mandate devices be turned off with consequences for accessing them, among other strategies.
“We didn’t want to be overly prescriptive,” Mr. Hoover said. “We want every community to have their own conversation about this to discuss what grade levels they think is appropriate.”
One advocate for the bill said that some middle schools in the Folsom area experienced significant benefits after implementing bans on smartphones last year.
Such rules were enacted after some students were witnessed starting fights and videotaping them to post on social media to generate engagement and promote challenges of damaging school facilities on TikTok.
“We decided that we needed to take action on that,” Jen Laret, trustee for the Folsom Cordova Unified School District, said during the bill’s hearing by the Assembly’s Education Committee on April 3. “Pretty immediately, we saw results.”
With phones prohibited on school grounds, in person social interaction increased, she said, with more students playing on the playground, less damage to facilities, and a reduced number of bullying incidents.
One lawmaker in support said that social media is so intrusive in the lives of children that more needs to be done to address the issue and suggested that while the bill does not mandate prohibition, ordering schools to block access could be a beneficial step forward in the future.
“It’s this addiction, like a drug. We started this conversation a few years ago, and it’s only gotten worse in the last few years,” Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, education committee member, said during the hearing.
Expressing concern that the bill could have unintended consequences, another committee member questioned how the rules would impact students and teachers.
“We can, as adults, want to wish them away, but the likelihood of students conforming to not bringing their cell phones onto campus, whether or not there’s a policy, is slim to none,” Assemblywoman Mia Bonta said during the hearing. “I’m trying to understand what this legislation will do that will actually support an environment that will keep students in the classroom, as opposed to keeping administrators and teachers trying to take the phones out of the kids’ hands and creating reduction of instructional minutes for those students.”
Ms. Bonta ultimately voted for the measure in committee but chose not to vote when it was heard by the Assembly.
Proponents of the bill pointed to research cited by committee consultants showing a correlation between social media use and mental health issues for young people as evidence that the proposal could prove beneficial.
A study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2020 found that social media when used extensively is associated with increased risk of depression, self-harm, and lower levels of self-esteem in teenage girls aged 13 to 15.
High school students watch a mock DUI situation constructed by local law enforcement and first responders' agencies in Orange County, Calif., on April 25, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

High school students watch a mock DUI situation constructed by local law enforcement and first responders' agencies in Orange County, Calif., on April 25, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

The U.S. Surgeon General also issued an advisory in 2023 recommending urgent action to address concerns that social media use could pose a risk of mental health harm in children and teenagers—potentially leading to depression—citing studies that demonstrated an impact on sleep quality.
Approximately 51 percent of teenagers reported spending at least four hours a day on social media, according to a 2023 Gallup survey. And about 95 percent of teens have access to a smartphone—with about 38 percent acknowledging they spend too much time on their device—a 2024 Pew Research report found.
Highlighting international success stories—with Spain banning all cell phones in schools in 2015 and subsequently reporting increased academic performance—the bill’s authors said the measure could improve educational settings in California if enacted.
“And students doing things other than being on their phone is good, as well,” Mr. Hoover said.
Fiscal effects identified by the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee included costs to the state of tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars every five years to pay for governing bodies to develop and update policies—with unknown costs related to enforcement and disciplinary actions.
Having cleared the Assembly, the bill will be heard in the Senate’s respective committees in the coming weeks.
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Travis Gillmore

Travis Gillmore

Author

Travis Gillmore is an avid reader and journalism connoisseur based in California covering finance, politics, the State Capitol, and breaking news for The Epoch Times.

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