Youngkin Seeks Phone-Free Classrooms

by James A. Bacon

Governor Glenn Youngkin has issued an executive order ordering the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to draft guidance for public school divisions to restrict the use of cell phones in schools.

Executive Order 33 directs VDOE to develop guidelines that balance cell phone restrictions with parents’ desires to contact children in emergencies. VDOE will issue draft guidelines by August 15, solicit feedback, and publish final guidelines September 15. The hope is for local school boards to adopt them effective January 25, 2025.

A statewide cell-phone initiative is long overdue. I’ve been beating the drums since publishing, “At This School, the Cell Phones Rule,” more than two years ago. Several Virginia school districts — Hopewell, Charlottesville, Virginia Beach, Fredericksburg — as well as individual schools have already acted. In his book published earlier this year, “The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness,” social psychologist Jonathan Haidt gave impetus to a growing national movement by tying cell phone use to the alarming increase in mental illness among teenagers. One of Haidt’s top recommendations for reversing the trend is banning cell phones in schools.

In 2023 Florida restricted students from using cell phones in class; Indiana and Ohio followed soon after with similar measures. Oklahoma, Vermont and Connecticut have introduced legislation. Approaches vary from blocking phone use in classrooms only to prohibiting access at any time during school hours.

“This essential action will promote a healthier and more focused educational environment where every child is free to learn,” said Youngkin in a press release announcing the executive order. “Creating cell phone and social media-free educational environments in Virginia’s K-12 education system will benefit students, parents, and educators.”

The goal, Youngkin explained, is to eliminate distractions in the classroom by limiting the amount of time students are exposed to “addictive cell phones and social media.”

The press release continued:

Implementing cell phone-free education in Virginia’s K-12 public schools is critical, especially given youth chronic health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, that are driven in part by extensive social media and cell phone use. Children spend an average of 4.8 hours a day on social media, and recent studies indicate that spending more than three hours a day on social media doubles the risk of poor mental health for adolescents. Most alarming is the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention data from 2019-2021, reporting that the rate of suicide has increased 167% since 2010 for girls and 91% since 2010 for boys. In the same timeframe, boys and girls experienced a spike in depression of 161% and 145%, respectively.

“The data is clear, and it is time for Virginians to come together to address the damage of social media and screens to healthy childhoods,” said Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera in the statement. “Government cannot be the sole solution to this crisis. School communities -– especially parents and teachers –- must work together to discuss and develop common sense approaches to limit screen time, prioritize open channels of communication, and re-establish norms that reinforce healthy and vibrant learning communities.”

“Cell phones and digital media have caused pre-teens and teens to disconnect from the real world, have increased mental health challenges, and have caused significant disruption in the important daily learning opportunities in their classrooms,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Coons. “We look forward to facilitating conversations around the danger to our children of cell phones, social media, and the impact of screen time and will focus on creating guidance that protects the health and safety of our students.”

Over the next six weeks, the Department of Education will provide opportunities for the public to comment and will gather feedback on best practices already underway in Virginia public schools.

Nothing in the Executive Order is intended to prohibit school divisions from adopting age-appropriate policies on an accelerated timetable or enact restrictions that are more comprehensive than the guidance issued by VDOE, said the Governor’s press release.

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10 responses to “Youngkin Seeks Phone-Free Classrooms”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    So this gives State backing to the schools that want to do it but feel vulnerable to social and legal challenges?

    I think one could call it leadership but clearly it has not been at the front of other policy issues that were tackled by Youngkin.

    I would attribute this somewhat to the simple fact that until recently, there
    really has been no strong consensus to do this and at the same time, pushback, as some parents were insisting that it was a safety issue for their kids.

    1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
      Eric the half a troll

      Youngkin leads from behind…

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        on this, for sure… most of the Fredericksburg area schools are way ahead of him.

  2. Lefty665 Avatar

    That's great, but whatTF? If it is a good idea, and it clearly is, why not make it effective this fall for the new school year? Collect comments and feedback and make rules effective with the start of school.

  3. StarboardLift Avatar

    What's new is that kids who grew up with smartphones have finally reached young adulthood, we can study them, and the data are damning. Can't find a single parent working in tech who will give their own minor child a smartphone. Tablets for toddlers, "yes," flip phones for safety, "yes," smartphone, "no."

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      So the Smartphone is going to become a "prohibited" device for some? Serious question! Can kids get to social media and texting with tablets or flip-phones?

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    Yeah, we the school teachers have been telling you this for the last 20 years.

    I must say there is one benefit to the cell phone in the classroom. The classroom nonsense was recorded and archived on social media. The wide-open curtain is now closing.

    I say put a camera in every classroom. If something objectionable occurs you can always use the Warner Wolf line: "let's go to the videotape."

    1. Marty Chapman Avatar
      Marty Chapman

      If cops need bodycams….?

  5. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive


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