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Lawmakers to Ohio Students: Screen Time’s Over, Kids

Ohio senators have passed a bill to limit cell phone use in schools.

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Ohio senators have passed a bill to limit cell phone use in schools, but it allows local districts to decide on the best practices for their students.

“Being a parent in the age of smartphones is — my mom would say is harder than she had it,” Natalie Hastings, mom-of-two, said.

Hastings believes boundaries with technology are important, but there are struggles when it comes to school.

“There was some bullying in the restrooms and people were taking videos,” she said. “There is now a policy in place at the building level where kids can bring their phones to school and power them off, put them in their backpacks.”

Starting in the fall of 2023, a new policy at Akron Public Schools requires all secondary students to keep their cell phones in magnetically locking “Yondr” bags. Students are allowed to use their phones in the lunchroom and between classes but must silence and stow them away.

Schools around the state have started cracking down on phone usage, and state lawmakers are joining in.

“I thought the idea of eliminating use of smartphones during the school day is a great idea,” Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said.

Huffman and his members just passed House Bill 250, legislation that added a provision to require each public school district to create a cell phone policy, emphasizing that phone use should be as limited as possible during the school day.

The legislation would also require the Department of Education and Workforce to adopt a model policy on student phone use that public schools could utilize. These policies come at a request of Gov. Mike DeWine, who said in his State of the State Address that phones are “detrimental to our kids’ mental health and they need to be removed from the classroom.”

Hastings is mainly supportive of the Senate’s bill.

“I would advocate that every building principal is the one who can make the best decision for their specific kids,” Hastings said.

She is worried about a competing version of policy — H.B. 485, which would ban personal devices like cell phones, computers, headphones and smartwatches unless a teacher specifically allows it, there is an emergency, it is needed for healthcare or if a student has a learning disability and it is part of their accommodations.

The bill would require public schools to create an internet safety policy. The legislation also mandates grades 6-12 to have courses on the negative side of social media.

But it isn’t clear if House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) is on board with the Senate.

There were some questions in our caucus on what the details were on the cell phone language and we had several members who wanted to read those languages,” Stephens said.

State Rep. Tom Young (R-Washington Township), the sponsor of H.B. 485, wasn’t thrilled with the Senate’s actions.

“They have every right to do that, of course, however, we will have hearings on my bill because it’s important that we get feedback from the districts and those interested parties so that we can have best practices and that’s really important.” Young said. “Citizens should have a right to speak about a piece of legislation — period — especially one that’s important. If we’re going to do this then we’re going to do it right.”

Hastings said Ohio should start small before major mandates.

“It’s a level of distraction that we are still figuring out in real time,” she said.

The Senate’s version goes back to the House for a concurrence vote.

This article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David Dewitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

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