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New law bans cellphones in classrooms, with exceptions

New law bans cellphones in class

WESTFIELD, Ind. (WISH) — The superintendent of a Hamilton County school district that already bans cellphones in class said Thursday that parents still have ways to reach their children if needed.

Two years ago, Westfield Washington Schools began requiring its middle school students to keep their cellphones in their lockers for the duration of the school day. High schoolers had to keep theirs in their backpacks last year, except during lunch or between classes.

Superintendent Dr. Paul Kaiser says the cellphone policy so far has been a success. “We want them to be focused on curriculum and instruction, and not their social media account.”

Schools across Indiana will have to adopt policies similar to Westfield Washington’s soon. Earlier this month, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed legislation that requires all public schools, including charter schools, to adopt policies that prohibit students from using any kind of wireless communication device during instructional time. Such policies will need to include exceptions for emergencies, for individualized educational plans, or for classroom lessons that incorporate such devices into the coursework.

Kaiser says policies such as Westfield Washington’s won’t leave parents completely unable to communicate with their children. He said teachers still have their own cellphones as well as classroom phones in the event of emergencies, and parents who need to contact their children can contact the main office, which can send someone to find students right away. In addition, he says, his corporation’s restrictions don’t apply to after-school activities.

Indiana’s actions join a growing trend. Last year, Florida became the first state to pass such a ban, and similar legislation is pending in Oklahoma, Vermont and Kansas.

Student cellphone use is also prohibited in all public schools in Australia. Researchers there reviewed what few studies exist of cellphone bans and found the evidence to support such bans to be weak and inconclusive. They said some studies found improved academic performance or mental health outcomes, but others found no changes or even negative impacts.

Kaiser says parents should plan ahead for the ban and talk with their children about other ways to communicate. For example, he says, his schools issue computers to every student, and students can still email back and forth with their families if needed.

The law takes effect July 1, meaning schools will have to have their policies in place in time for the 2024-2025 school year.

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