How a Utah bill would put cell phones, smart devices on hold in the classroom

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah could soon become the first state with a law restricting the use of cellphones and smartwatches by students in grades K-12.

“I first came up with this idea because it’s getting so bad at my daughter’s school that the kids put in their headphones all the time and just listen. This will fix it. ” said Rep. Trevor Lee, R-Layton, sponsor of HB270. “I’ve had elementary school teachers say, ‘Hey, I have parents calling or texting my kids during school.’ Well, this eliminates that.”

HB270: School cell phone use amendment requires students to bring their cell phones and smart watches with cellular service to a designated area in the classroom. Elementary students will retrieve them at the end of the day. Middle and high school students will retrieve them at the end of each lesson.

Lawmakers and educators seem to like Lee’s bill. If the proposals are accepted, they could enter into force in the 2023-2024 school year.

“Using your phone, even when it’s off, has psychological effects, not just distractions, but also ghost texts and ghost calls,” Lee said.

His goal with the bill is to “prevent that and help kids learn to live without a phone at least for a day.”

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HB270 would allow students to keep their devices if deemed medically necessary and to retrieve the device if “it is necessary to respond to an imminent threat to personal health or safety.”

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Many districts in the state already have some sort of cell phone policy. At Magna Cyprus High School, it is forbidden to make calls in the classroom.

While students are allowed to use their phones outside of class, “when you’re in the classroom, you have to put it away, and if a teacher sees you with it, the teacher takes it away,” said senior Quentin Meza. Cyprus High School.

Cyprus High School implemented its electronics policy five years ago. Students and parents sign it at the start of each school year, and there are consequences for those who break it. For the first offense, the device is kept in the office until the end of the day. After a second offense, a parent or guardian must come to the school to pick it up. For a third offense, the student and parent should meet with the administrator to discuss further action.

“It’s always going to be hard to start a new policy, isn’t it? So there was a little more pushback at the very beginning. But where we are, it’s just part of our school culture,” said Cypress High School Assistant Principal Robin Tenbrink.

Meza said his cell phone was taken from him when he spent his first year in Cyprus, but he has followed the policy ever since. He said he now understands the negative impact on his schoolwork.

“I feel it’s good for me, and sometimes I can get a little frustrated, I just want to get my phone out for a minute, but overall it’s helped me focus, get my work done and listen to the teacher. And just accept what they’re offering,” said the Forest.

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“It helps to set boundaries and know when they can use their cell phone and when it’s not a good time to use a cell phone. It helps them learn those skills,” Tenbrink said.

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Cyprus’ electronic use policy differs from HB270 in that students can keep cell phones in their pockets or backpacks. If HB270 passes, Tenbrink said she doesn’t see a problem with adapting school policies to collect the devices. Her advice to schools without the current policy is to make sure all teachers and staff follow it and that there is no difference between classes.

“It’s really important to make sure it’s school-wide and that everyone understands it and is on board with it,” Tenbrink said.

KSL TV wanted to know how parents feel about cell phone policies across the country. Parents waiting to enroll their students at Glendale High School in Salt Lake City overwhelmingly supported the idea.

“I think it’s great. I think it takes away the distraction and unnecessary checking in with friends or thinking they have to try to use social media. I’m all for it,” Courtney McMullin said.

“I totally agree with that, they shouldn’t have it in the classroom. I really don’t believe that younger kids should have phones anyway,” Jan Evert said. “The only problem is, if there’s an emergency, they can check their phone and it’ll be there, and when it’s time to use it, they can use it. So yes, I totally agree with that. “

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“I know phones can help them with some schoolwork, but I’m old-timers and the teachers taught us without cell phones 40 years ago and we turned out fine,” said Dennis Olsen, who picked up a grandchild.

HB270 would “require the local education agency (LEA) to implement the provisions of this bill in a manner determined by the LEA”.

Lee said he understands teachers’ concerns about the enforcement burden.

“They feel like it gives them more responsibilities to enforce, but again, I hope to eliminate that and let school districts develop policies to enforce it so that teachers don’t feel like they don’t have anyone to support them,” Lee said.

HB270 is currently being debated in the House Education Committee and has the fiscal note “$15 per classroom to $15 per device for the storage and maintenance of student electronic devices”.

Lee hopes that’s a small price to pay to help Utah students focus on their education while in the classroom.

“We put a lot of money into education, and for them to just go to school and listen to their phones or just sit on social media, or whatever problems they have, I’d like to get rid of that and go back to social interaction, kids learn best that way and just learning to focus,” Lee said.


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