Aug 21, 2023 - Education

Twin Cities schools are cracking down on cellphone use

Illustration of a cell phone merged with a book.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Several metro area school districts are cracking down on student cellphone use as teachers, parents, administrations, and kids debate how electronic devices can affect learning and social development.

Why it matters: Cellphones are everywhere, but school policies haven't always kept up. Some argue that the devices are distracting students from the classroom, while others say they can be useful for learning.

What's happening: Anoka-Hennepin and Robbinsdale schools just updated their policies to require middle schoolers to have phones "off and away" all day. High school students at Anoka-Hennepin can use their cell phones outside of class time, a spokesperson said.

  • The Minneapolis school board voted to remove a revision in its policy that would have allowed students to keep phones out in class in some cases and referred it back to the policy committee. There's no date yet for when it may return to the board, a spokesperson confirmed to Axios.

Meanwhile: St. Paul Public School District doesn't have a specific policy, instead handling cellphone use on a building-by-building basis, a spokesperson told Axios.

Zoom out: As early as last year, the Minnesota School Boards Association used to recommend that cell phones be taken away if students weren't behaving but now says devices should instead be regulated at the local level.

  • "Cell phones have become so prevalent that it doesn't make sense to have a uniform policy. Some may want to use them for technology purposes or other classroom needs," executive director Kirk Schneidawind told us.

Yes, but: Phones can still distract all age groups, affect social development, and become addictive, said Marguerite Ohrtman, director of school counseling and clinical training at the University of Minnesota.

  • "Kids got used to using electronics for school during the pandemic, and now there's really no going back to the days without them," she added. "It's become second nature for everyone."

The other side: Some have argued their children should be allowed phones for safety reasons, such as immediate contact with family or law enforcement in case of emergencies, Schneidawind said.

The big picture: Cellphones are here to stay, but the device's role in schools will likely remain up to the administration this upcoming year.

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