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News / Clark County News

Vancouver Schools of Arts and Academics will limit cellphones in classrooms; district could follow suit as it looks at issue this summer

Vancouver Public Schools considers districtwide policy

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: June 19, 2024, 2:55pm

The Vancouver School of Arts and Academics sent out a notice to families last week that it will adopt a new policy to limit classroom cellphone use next school year.

The sixth- through 12th-grade magnet school set its own policy, which will require students to place their powered-down phones in hanging pouches as they enter their classrooms. Vancouver Public Schools has yet to develop a districtwide policy, but officials expect to do so sometime later this summer.

Students’ cellphone use has grown to be more disruptive to student attention in class every year, several Vancouver teachers have said.

“For some time now, Vancouver has had policies that support limitations and oversight of phones on a school-by-school and classroom-based level. This year VSAA made the choice to strengthen their oversight of cellphone use,” district spokeswoman Jessica Roberts said.

“Our board is also interested in exploring and determining best practice surrounding cellphones in our schools at the district level,” she added. “We anticipate that we will be more widely and purposefully engaging our community, students, staff and families about this in the 2024-25 school year.”

Beginning next fall, Vancouver School of Arts and Academics will require students to stash their phones in numbered plastic pouches and leave them there until the end of class, according to a weekly update sent to families by the school’s principal, Lori Rotherham.

“The research is clear: Schools without cellphones in classrooms report improved focus, academics, creativity, mental health and social connections,” she writes.

Vancouver is not the only district with its eye on the issue. Several other school districts across the state have already moved to reduce or prohibit cellphone usage altogether.

The Peninsula School District in Gig Harbor, for example, implemented an outright in-school phone ban earlier this year and has since reported seeing improved classroom focus and social-emotional health among students. Other Washington school districts in Pasco, Kennewick and elsewhere have followed suit, as well.

State legislators, too, shined a light on the issue in this year’s legislative session. Rep. Stephanie McClintock, R-Vancouver, sponsored House Bill 2018, which did not advance past the House floor. It would have directed the Washington State School Directors’ Association to develop a policy restricting phone usage. It also would have directed the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to create model-learning sites without cellphone usage to research how students performed compared with normal schools.

“While the U.S. and nations around the world consider restricting mobile devices for students, the Washington Legislature intends to explore the best strategies to implement a phone-free school environment with more focus on academics, development of social skills and students engaging with each other, through research and analysis of information collected from pilot schools,” the bill stated.

Roberts said Vancouver Public Schools plans to provide families throughout the district with a clear, consistent plan for how it aims to tackle cellphone usage next school year — whether or not it looks like the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics’ proposed idea.