Virginia governor issues executive order that will limit or ban cell phone use in schools

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Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued a new executive order Tuesday that will limit or ban cell phone use in public schools – the latest in a string of efforts by officials to crack down on what many see as a classroom distraction and a threat to students’ mental health.

The order by Youngkin, a Republican, directs the Virginia Department of Education to establish guidelines for a cell phone-free education, the governor’s office said in a news release. The new policies are to be implemented in schools by January 1, 2025, with a draft of guidelines expected by August 15 and final guidance issued in September.

Youngkin called the order an “essential action” that would “promote a healthier and more focused educational environment” for the more than 1.2 million students served by the Virginia Department of Education as of the 2023-2024 academic year.

“Creating cell phone and social media-free educational environments in Virginia’s K-12 education system will benefit students, parents, and educators,” Youngkin said in the release.

“Today’s Executive Order both establishes the clear goal to protect the health and safety of our students by limiting the amount of time they are exposed to addictive cell phones and social media and eliminates clear distractions in the classroom.”

The move comes on the heels of announcements last month by the nation’s two largest school districts – New York City Public Schools and the Los Angeles Unified School District – that they would similarly move to limit cell phones in their schools.

Across the United States, 72% of high school teachers said cell phone distraction is a “major problem in the classroom,” according to a report last week by the Pew Research Center.

Los Angeles’ school board voted 5-2 to ban cell phones during the school day by the start of the spring 2025 semester, a stance that goes beyond the existing, 14-year-old policy, which bans students from using cell phones during class instruction and limits social media use at school to “educational purposes.”

Cell phone use has exploded in the years since. LAUSD board members who supported the ban pointed to research they said suggests “excessive cell phone use impacts adolescents’ mental health and well-being and is associated with increased stress, anxiety, depression, sleep issues, feelings of aggression, and suicidal thoughts.”

New York City’s Public Schools Chancellor David Banks echoed that days later, when he said in an interview with WNYW that phones were not only a distraction, but an addiction – and a “major issue.”

Banks indicated a formal announcement would come once he decided how to implement the plan. The change would go into effect as early as January 2025, he told CNN affiliate NY1.

Still, questions remain about how to implement these plans. One sticking point is the impact on communication between students and their parents, particularly in the event of an emergency – a distressingly universal occurrence in an age of school lockdowns and gun violence.

Banks acknowledged parents’ concerns, telling NY1, “We want you to be able to bring your phone to school because the minute that school is over you need to be in communication with your family.”

“We can’t control what happens once they’re home,” he said, “but maybe six to eight hours out of the day, we might have a little bit more control.”

CNN’s Holly Yan, Debra Goldschmidt, Alisha Ebrahimji and Jeff Winter contributed to this report.

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