Virginia to limit or ban cell phones in public schools

FILE PHOTO: Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin

By Liya Cui

(Reuters) - Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin has issued an executive order to limit or ban cell phone use for roughly 1.2 million public school students, in what he described as a response to mental health issues and academic underachievement among adolescents.

The order, issued on Tuesday, directs the Virginia Department of Education to create procedures that would restrict cell phone use during instructional time, such as pouches or dedicated cell phone lockers.

Education officials will consider exceptions for parents to communicate with children for necessary reasons, as well as protocols for students with medical needs or for emergency situations.

The decision follows a similar cell phone ban announced last month by the Los Angeles Unified School District. The chancellor of New York City Public Schools has said that he, too, is considering a phone ban for the nation's largest school district.

They join a number of smaller school districts that have blocked access to phones or social media out of a growing concern that cell phones are detrimental to students' learning and mental health.

Virginia's Department of Education has until Sept. 16 to issue its final guidance on the new policy, which schools will implement by Jan. 1, 2025.

"Creating a cell phone-free education environment in public schools is not only a prudent measure but an essential one to promote a healthier and more focused educational environment where every child is free to learn," Youngkin, a Republican, said in the order.

Youngkin's order references a study published in the American Psychological Association which found that adolescents who spend more than three hours a day on social media double their risk of poor mental health. It also cites studies indicating that cell phone use in class hurts students' ability to focus and engage, resulting in lower grades.

(Reporting by Liya Cui in New York; Editing by Sandra Maler)