Notes on cellphones in schools

Ira Wells:

Over the past few years, the debate over how to manage cellphones in schools has offered a reprise of many of these arguments. Kids are going to use their devices anyway, so what’s the point of punishing them or tasking overworked teachers with policing usage? Do teachers have the right to confiscate students’ phones? And even if they are banned in classrooms, what’s to stop middle-school influencers from Snapping up a storm in the bathrooms or elsewhere on school grounds? 

In Ontario, the conversation around kids’ use of cellphones recently reached an inflection point. In March, the Toronto District School Board and three other counterparts launched lawsuits against social media companies (including the owners of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok) for marketing intentionally addictive products to children and for “rewiring” the way children “think, act, behave and learn.” The boards allege that students’ compulsive social media use is causing “significant attention, focus and mental health concerns” and that the resulting behavioural dynamics have necessitated “massive shifts and resource demands.” Then, on April 28, education minister Stephen Lecce announced that, starting September 2024, the province was banning cellphones in elementary schools for the entire day and during class time for middle and high school students. (It was, Lecce said, “the toughest policy in Canada” on cellphones in schools.) The move follows Quebec’s efforts last December to ban cellphones from elementary and secondary classrooms.