Ohio Lawmakers Approve School "Cellphone Ban" Measure

Gov. Mike DeWine had urged legislators to take up the issue

click to enlarge COLUMBUS, Ohio — JUNE 07: State Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Delaware, speaks during the Ohio Senate session, June 7, 2023, at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. - (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal)
(Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal)
COLUMBUS, Ohio — JUNE 07: State Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Delaware, speaks during the Ohio Senate session, June 7, 2023, at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio.

Ohio lawmakers signed off on changes to the military seal for high school diplomas on Wednesday. But the bill’s most notable provision was a last minute amendment regarding cellphones in K-12 schools that caught a ride on the non-controversial measure.

Recently, Gov. Mike DeWine urged lawmakers to address cellphones in classrooms during his state of the state address. Now, about a month later, those changes are headed to his desk.

Some lawmakers casually refer to the changes as a “cellphone ban,” but that’s a bit of a misnomer. Instead, the law directs every district to develop a written policy aimed at minimizing phone use during school hours and potential distractions during class instruction.

The bill also includes an exception for students who need a phone to assist in learning or to track a health concern, so long as it is reflected in their individual education plan.

On the Senate floor, the cellphone provision’s chief backer, Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Delaware, explained “the legislation does not require districts to adopt a ban on all students’ cell phone use, though that is an option if the school district chooses to do so.”

He added that those districts with cellphone policies in place don’t need to change them so long as the policy “emphasize(s) minimal use and least amount of distraction.”

“The language also directs the Department of Education and Workforce to develop a model policy informed by evidence-based research on the effects of smartphones and classrooms, that districts may choose to adopt as their policy if they wish to do so,” Brenner said.

Across the hall in the House, Rep. Tracy Richardson, R-Marysville, emphasized how their approach gives districts direction without being prescriptive.

“Each school district is required to create their own policy, thus ensuring — and let me make this very clear — local control,” she said.

Up until this January, Rep. Beryl Piccolantonio, D-Gahanna, was serving as president of the Gahanna-Jefferson School Board, and she described the changes as “critically important.”

“A frequent issue that was raised to us by staff, and by students, quite frankly, was how difficult it was for staff to enforce their own classroom policies because they didn’t have broader support to back up that enforcement.”

She praised the measure for giving districts the “flexibility” to develop their own approaches to deal with the issue. Highlighting a recent take your child to work day event where kids debated cellphones in schools, she noted “even some of the students acknowledge the distraction that cellphones have within their classroom.”

Originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal. Republished here with permission.
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