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Utah lawmakers are addressing school phone bans and social media restrictions for teens

SALT LAKE CITY — Members of the Utah State Legislature are considering legislation that would ban the use of cellphones in classrooms and potentially limit their access to social media platforms.

The bills are being drafted in response to published research on the impact of social media and increased screen time on children’s mental health, an issue Gov. Spencer Cox is becoming increasingly vocal about.

Problems related to cellphones in classrooms prompted a Salt Lake City middle school to impose a ban. Clayton Middle School principal Dallin Miller said that she was constantly recording cases of cyberbullying, fake social media accounts representing students or teachers, and all of this impacting students.

“They couldn’t focus on classwork because they were nervous about what would be posted about them during class,” Miller said in an interview with FOX 13 News.

Last year, Miller said, school administrators began meeting with teachers and parents to discuss the idea and found overwhelming support for it. Clayton Middle School does not ban phones outright, but does ban them from classrooms and hallways.

“It’s made a huge difference in behavior,” Miller said, adding that student disciplinary cases have decreased.

It has even spread beyond the school grounds.

“It helped with arguments at home during screen time, parents thank us,” he said. “It was great.”

Miller said he encourages other schools to consider similar restrictions on cellphone use to limit classroom distractions when students should be studying.

The phone “ban” is something Rep. Trevor Lee, R-Layton, inauguration plans to roll out nationwide when he takes office in January at the start of the 2023 Utah state legislature. He told FOX 13 News that he is introducing legislation banning cell phones in classrooms at all K-12 schools statewide.

“When children come to class, they must put their phones in a compartment and must not take their phones out of their hands at all during class,” said Rep. Lee. “You’re not allowed to go there, touch it, see it. It’s turned off or set to silent in the closet.”

The phone is still there for emergencies, he said, but pointed out that generations of schoolchildren were able to reach their parents through the front office before cell phones were even introduced.

“It’s about making sure they have a better opportunity to study in school without those distractions,” MP Lee said of the students.

With some studies showing teenagers spend more than six or seven hours a day on phones, MP Lee said his pending legislation is about creating a better learning environment in schools.

“If a kid can’t go to class without looking at their phone? That’s an even bigger problem that hopefully we can start to say, ‘Hey, let’s make a habit of not being on the phone every hour of the day, let’s take some breaks and the break is when you’re studying ‘”, he said.

In addition to the ban on telephones, the legislature is also examining whether young people’s access to social media should be restricted. Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, has opened a bill on the issue. But he told FOX 13 News in an interview that details of the legislation are still being discussed.

“If we are talking about minors using social media, are there more restrictions that we need to have compared to an adult? in,” he said.

MP Teuscher said he was in talks with social media companies about the upcoming legislation. Social media companies largely ban anyone under the age of 13 from logging on to their platforms (although critics say this can be circumvented) and bans have been criticized as censorship.

“It’s a very sensitive area because minors have First Amendment rights just like adults,” Rep. Teuscher said. “So we have to make sure we’re doing something that will stand up in court and solve the problem that we see.”

Utah is not alone, as lawmakers in other states are threatening similar bans on social media use. Gov. Cox, who has campaigned to limit phone and social media use, told FOX 13 News on Tuesday that he was in talks with lawmakers about the possible bills that could appear in the upcoming legislative session.

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