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Cellphone ban in schools a good call

Not too long ago, state lawmakers approved a proposal that tightens rules about texting while driving and using cellphones for other purposes that pull a driver’s attention off the road.

Cellphones are at the center of another controversy, this time in the state’s public schools.

There’s a movement afoot in the state Capitol that’s gathered support in both the House and Senate to have students lock up their electronic devices at the start of the school day and pick them up on the way out.

Sen. Ryan Aument, a Republican from Lancaster is preparing legislation in the Senate, while State Rep. Barb Gliem, a Cumberland County Republican, has already done so and is waiting for action in the House Education Committee.

If both chambers connect, students would put phones in locked containers while school is in session and have them unlocked at the end of the day.

The Senate plan includes a pilot program that would give some schools money for “lockable phone bags.”

In an age where it seems there are more cellphones than there are students, Aument believes that the rise of smartphones is directly related to the decline in mental health, social skills and academic success of students.

Locally, Tamaqua Area School District is already discussing limiting cellphone use during the school day.

The main shift under the administration’s proposed changes would restrict cellphone use during study halls and allow use during class only under supervision.

The administration hopes to take back some academic time with restricting use during study halls. Board President Larry Wittig said at a recent meeting. “Cellphone use is not a good thing societally, because of the lack of one-on-one, face-to-face communication.”

A nonprofit group’s recent study showed that 97% of those who participated were on their phones for about 43 minutes, and 32% of those minutes were spent on social media.

Aument believes there’s a link between a jump in suicide rates among girls between 10 and 14 years old and smartphone use. Citing more statistics, he claims using smartphones contributes to poor mental health, physical health and academic outcomes.

He points out that up to 95% of teens and 40% of children ages 8-12 use social media.

Even more, he says students who spend large amounts of time on social media have lower scores in math and reading performance.

Bullying, too, is an issue, with 59% of the students surveyed admitting they’ve been victims of abuse via social media.

Irresponsible events like Tik-Tok challenges can cause damage or injury, Aument pointed out in a release.

There appears to be support for the legislation at several levels.

State school administrators are on board with the proposal, saying that “constant connectivity” holds back development of relationships and distracts students from learning.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association, however, has no position regarding the issue.

Perhaps the biggest hang up for any proposal would come from parents who contend a full-time connection with their children is necessary, especially in the event of something like the unfortunate occurrences at Columbine or Sandy Hill.

Those incidents and the hundreds that have occurred in recent years have made schools safer via faster response times and increased training of school professionals among other things.

Sometimes, though, parents aren’t aware of how students are using the phones in a classroom. It seems that these days, a cellphone is an extension of an adolescent’s fingers.

On a wider scope, many states already are taking action.

Florida law mandates that public schools ban student cellphone use during class time and blocks access to school-supplied Wi-Fi networks. Some districts there ban the devices completely during the school day.

Oklahoma and Virginia are considering phone-free school laws, too.

In Ohio, test scores in reading and mathematics are on the upswing, and students are learning social skills that use smiles and speech instead of keyboards and screens. Bullying there has decreased dramatically. The difference? No cellphones in schools.

The efforts ahead in Harrisburg, though, are a good sign that lawmakers are taking interests in our schools and their students.

Given the current Capitol political splits, they’re finding out that working together when it comes to disconnecting students from their cellphones gives new meaning to what many old-timers remember as a party line.

And that all in all, banning cellphones in schools is a good call.

ED SOCHA | tneditor@tnonline.com

ED SOCHA is a retired newspaper editor with more than 40 years’ experience in community journalism. Reach him at tneditor@tnonline.com.

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.