Executive order paves way for cellphone-free schools in Virginia

(The Center Square) – Virginia is joining a growing number of states seeking to limit cellphone usage in public schools.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued Executive Order 33 on Tuesday, which will…

(The Center Square) – Virginia is joining a growing number of states seeking to limit cellphone usage in public schools.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued Executive Order 33 on Tuesday, which will direct the Virginia Department of Education to “draft guidance” for school districts to “adopt local policies and procedures” to establish “cellphone-free education.”

Youngkin cited “increasing evidence” that cellphone and social media use impacts youth mental health.

The order will direct the Education Department to “initiate a robust public engagement effort” between students, parents, teachers, local school leaders and stakeholders in developing “policies and procedures” to establish the “age-appropriate restriction or elimination” of cellphone use during “instructional time.” 

In localities where cellphone bans have been approved, one of the chief concerns of parents is the ability to reach their children in an emergency. In an effort to quell parental concerns, the order includes the establishment of protocols for parents to contact their children with urgent matters.

The executive action taken by the governor follows several school districts throughout the commonwealth adopting policies to ban cellphones in the classroom, many of which will go into effect in the upcoming school year.

Youngkin’s office underscores that the executive action is the “first statewide effort to “enhance the learning environment by eliminating or severely restricting cellphone devices during instructional time.”

To support the initiative, the Education Department and the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services will provide a combined $500,000 available from existing funds to support the implementation of the new policy.

Youngkin said the action is needed and will ultimately benefit students, parents and educators.

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

The governor says the order helps protect the “health and safety” of students while also allowing communities to establish their own policies regarding cellphone use in the classroom.

Youngkin said, “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 cellphones and social media and eliminates clear distractions in the classroom. It also kicks off the robust conversations among parents, students, teachers, and school and community leaders necessary to design and implement these policies and procedures at the local level.”

Youngin’s office cited data on children’s daily average social media usage of 4.8 hours, adding that studies have shown that youth “spending more than three hours a day on social media double the risk of poor mental health.”

“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 release added.  

The order directs the Department of Education to publish draft guidance by Aug. 15, with the final guidance to be issued in September for “local school divisions to adopt cellphone-free education policies and procedures” by Jan. 1.

The governor’s office noted that nothing in the order prohibits school districts “from adopting age-appropriate policies and procedures” prior to the date. It also doesn’t prohibit school divisions from issuing “more comprehensive” policies and procedures than the guidance issued by the Education Department.

Listening sessions initiated by the Education Department seeking “stakeholder engagement opportunities” within the next six weeks to “solicit public input” on the policy while seeking feedback and best practices in drafting the guidance.