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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Other Papers Say: Cellphones threaten learning

By The Seattle Times
Published: May 18, 2024, 6:01am

The following editorial originally appeared in The Seattle Times:

It’s hard to believe there is any debate at this point around students using their cellphones in school.

Every month brings new evidence of phones’ damaging effects on kids’ developing brains and mental health. Schools and districts across the country are prohibiting their use in class and seeing an upturn in student performance when they do.

Last year, Florida became the first state requiring all public schools to ban student cellphone use during classes. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox hasn’t gone that far, but he is urging the state’s Board of Education to lay down rules removing cellphones from classrooms.

Yet Washington, where adults are wringing their hands over sagging student scores, has backed away from anything so strict. Rep. Stephanie McClintock, R-Vancouver, attempted to pass legislation asking the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to conduct a mere pilot study on the effects of banning cellphones. Her bill never made it to the floor. (Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction plans to offer guidance anyway, according to a spokesperson.)

Fair enough. This a strong local-control state. But this is also a moment for real leadership, and so far, few local school boards are showing it.

The Peninsula School District is an exception. Parents began begging for help controlling student cellphone use after the pandemic because kids, quite clearly, are unable to limit themselves.

“I’m not a clinician but it appears to be an addiction — just a complete inability to break away,” said Kris Hagel, executive director of digital learning in the Peninsula schools, which serve Gig Harbor.

Peninsula High School finally instituted an experimental ban last spring. It was so successful the school board made it districtwide policy this year.

“We’ve seen nothing but positives,” said Peninsula School Board Vice President David Olson, who is running for state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

In the meantime, students themselves have expressed gratitude to the adults for taking charge. They hadn’t realized how distracted they were until their phones were gone.

Again, leadership. The school board in Gig Harbor anticipated blowback, but went ahead to do what felt educationally ethical. And the torrent of criticism never materialized.

Teachers, too, say they wish their districts would step up and take charge, rather than leaving it to each classroom to set rules. Before the pandemic, many educators wanted the autonomy to set their own policies, said Brooke Brown, Washington’s Teacher of the Year in 2021. No more.

It’s time for adults to step up and act like grown-ups. There are limits on all kinds of products that are clearly harmful to children — vape pens, cigarettes, booze. To leave classroom teachers and kids on their own with this obviously addictive technology is a dereliction of duty.