Ohio moves to limit phones in K-12 classrooms

May 17—COLUMBUS — New legislation signed by Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday orders public K-12 schools to limit how often students check their phones during the school day.

"Our schoolchildren currently face countless distractions every day from the devices in their pockets," DeWine said as he signed House Bill 250 at Karrer Middle School in Dublin on Wednesday.

"By limiting these distractions, we will re-establish the opportunity for students across Ohio to immerse themselves in their classwork, learn from their teachers and create lifelong memories with their close friends."

Lawmakers unanimously adopted the rule as an amendment to House Bill 250, which modifies the military enlistment seal for high school graduation.

The amendment requires public K-12 districts to adopt policies aimed at limiting cell phone use and distractions in the classroom, with exceptions for students who need to monitor their health and for teacher-approved learning exercises.

The Ohio Department of Education and Workforce is drafting a model policy for school administrators to use as a guide for their own policies, which must be in place no later than July 2025.

Cell phone policies are already in effect for many school districts in the Lima region, but rules vary widely by school.

Students at schools like Perry, Wapakoneta, Bluffton and Spencerville high schools can check their phones during lunch, while students at districts like Ottawa-Glandorf, Pandora-Gilboa and Elida schools must silence and store their phones away during the school day.

The cell phone ban is new for Elida High School.

A letter notifying parents of the rule change in March cites several distractions caused by cell phones, including students watching movies, listening to music, texting and taking videos for TikTok or Snapchat without permission during class time.

Elida schools banned phones at the middle school last school year, which Superintendent Joel Mengerink said resulted in an immediate reduction in disciplinary incidents.

"From our standpoint, cell phones just create a big distraction for everyone," Mengerink told The Lima News via email. "Students focus on whatever the latest message was that they received or sent and it takes them a long time to get their focus back on their school work."

Schools with strict bans typically rely on progressive discipline to enforce the rules.

At Ottawa-Glandorf, administrators confiscate cell phones they see until the end of the school day.

Students who get caught more than once risk detention and additional rules, like checking their phone into the front office at the start of the school day or an outright ban on bringing a phone to school.

Teachers have the discretion to permit phones during class time at Columbus Grove, even though students are not allowed to check their phones in common areas.

The district strives to teach students how to use their phones and social media properly, because the "devices will continue to be a part of their lives after high school," Superintendent Nick Verhoff said.

Students at Wapakoneta High School are used to the privilege of checking their phones during lunch, Superintendent Aaron Rex said. The primary problem lies instead with taking photos or bullying on social media, problems which Rex said persist when students leave school.

Perry Superintendent Kelly Schooler said educators' opinions about phone policies tend to influence monitoring and enforcement. The district currently relies on a responsible-use approach, but is reviewing research on phone bans and student outcomes to guide policy in the immediate future, Schooler said.

"Many educators have strong opinions regarding types of policies schools should adopt regarding student cell phone usage in schools," she said. "As a result, the monitoring and enforcement of daily practices are often, consciously and unconsciously, influenced by those individual philosophies held by educators."