‘Let kids be kids’: LA becomes largest US school district to ban phones in class

<span>The proposal will be implemented starting in January 2025.</span><span>Photograph: Drazen Zigic/Getty Images</span>
The proposal will be implemented starting in January 2025.Photograph: Drazen Zigic/Getty Images

The Los Angeles unified school district board passed a resolution on Tuesday banning cellphones from district classrooms. As the second-largest school district in the US, the vote makes it the largest school district in the US to approve such a ban.

As more educators across the US explore similar policies, California governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday called for a statewide ban on phones in class.

The measure in Los Angeles was introduced by board member Nick Melvoin and will be implemented starting in January 2025 after passing in a 5-2 vote. Melvoin said in a statement the measure is meant to support “students’ academic success and wellbeing”, adding that studies have shown smartphones and social media distract kids from learning and stifle their in-person social connections.

“Kids no longer have the opportunity to just be kids,” Melvoin said. “I’m hoping this resolution will help students not only focus in class, but also give them a chance to interact and engage more with each other – and just be kids.”

The Los Angeles ban is not the first of its kind, with districts increasingly exploring ways to address technology use in the classroom. A measure proposed in South Carolina this month would ban students from using cellphones during the school day across all public schools in the state.

To enforce such bans, school districts have proposed locking up devices in lockers or partnering with companies that provide special pouches to keep devices away until they are released automatically at the end of the day. The superintendent’s team at the Los Angeles unified school district will spend the next 120 days researching the best way to implement the ban, said Ally Salvaria, communications director for Melvoin, and will be considering those options and more.

Educators’ attempts to address phone and social media use among students come as the US surgeon general Vivek Murthy urged social media platforms on Monday to issue health warnings for young users amid what he called an “ongoing youth mental health crisis”.

Related: New York governor to launch bill banning smartphones in schools

“While we are late as a society to ultimately making these platforms safer, it’s urgent that we start taking action now,” Murthy said. “Because the truth is, there’s nothing more important to the mental health and wellbeing of our kids.”

Such warnings would mimic those used to reduce tobacco use, first issued in the US in 1966 when 42% of Americans smoked. Today, only 12% of Americans smoke, with the reduction being contributed to a number of factors, including education.

Freedom-of-speech advocates have spoken out against such warnings, stating that efforts to protect children’s safety online should be balanced with privacy concerns. Such bans risk cutting young people off from important resources, said Aaron Mackey, free speech and transparency litigation director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“If Congress is serious about protecting children online, it should enact policies that promote choice in the marketplace and digital literacy,” he said. “Most important, we need comprehensive privacy laws that protect all internet users from the predatory data gathering and sales that target us for advertising and abuse.”