How a Utah bill would put cell phones, smart devices on hold in the classroom

Jan 30, 2023, 10:45 PM | Updated: 11:10 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah could soon be the first state with a law restricting cell phone and smart watches on students in K-12 classrooms.

“I first came up with the idea because my daughter’s school, it’s getting so bad where kids will put their headphones in and just tune out the entire time. This will eliminate that.” said Rep. Trevor Lee, R-Layton, the sponsor of HB270. “I’ve had elementary school teachers reach out that say, ‘Hey, I’ve got parents calling kids during school or texting them.’ Well, this eliminates that.”

HB270: School Cellphone Usage Amendments would require students to leave their cell phones and smart watches with cell service in a designated location within the classroom. Elementary students would retrieve them at the end of the day. Middle and high school students would retrieve them at the end of each class period.

Lawmakers and educators seem to like Lee’s bill. If passed, the proposals could take effect in the 2023-2024 school year.

“There are the psychological effects of having a phone on you, even if it’s off, not only being a distraction but having the ghost texts and ghost calls,” Lee said.

His goal with the bill is to “eliminate that and help children learn to go without a phone on them for at least a period of the day.”

Too many texts: Cellphone experiment shows impact on learning

HB270 would allow students to keep their devices if deemed medically necessary, and to retrieve the device if “necessary to respond to an imminent threat to the health or safety of an individual.”

Many districts in the state already have some sort of cell phone policy. Cyprus High School in Magna has a no-phone policy in the classroom.

While students are allowed to use their phones outside of class, “when you’re in the classroom, it needs to be put away, and if a teacher sees you with it, a teacher takes it away,” said Quentin Meza, a senior at Cyprus High School.

Cyprus High School implemented its electronics use policy five years ago. Students and parents sign off on it at the beginning of each school year and there are consequences for those who violate it. On a first offense, the device is held in the office until the end of the day. After a second offense, a parent or guardian has to come to the school to pick it up. A third offense would require the student and parents meet with an administrator to discuss further action.

“It’s always going to be hard to start a new policy, right? So, there was a little more push back at the very beginning. But where we are now, it’s just part of our school culture,” said Robin Tenbrink, assistant principal of Cyprus High School.

Meza said he had his cell phone taken away his first year at Cyprus — but since then, he’s followed the policy. He said he now understands the negative impact it can have on his schoolwork.

“I feel like it’s good for me, and sometimes, I may get a little bit frustrated, I just want to pull out my phone for a minute, but overall, it’s helped me stay focused and get my work done and listen to the teacher and just take in what they have to offer,” Meza said.

“It helps to set boundaries and know when they can use their cell phone and when it’s not an appropriate time to use their cell phone. It helps them learn those skills,” Tenbrink said.

Safety feature or distraction? Debate over kid-tracking watches in the classroom

Cyprus’ electronic use policy differs from HB270 in that students can keep their cell phones in a pocket or in their backpack. If HB270 passes, Tenbrink said she doesn’t see an issue adjusting the school’s policy to collect the devices. Her advice to schools without a current policy is to make sure all teachers and staff adhere to it and that there aren’t variations of the policy in different classrooms.

“That’s really important — to make sure it is school wide and that everyone understands it and is on board with it,” Tenbrink said.

KSL TV wanted to know how parents feel about a statewide cell phone policy. Parents waiting to pick up their students at Glendale Middle School in Salt Lake City were overwhelmingly in favor of the idea.

“I think it’s great. I think it takes away distraction and unnecessary checking in with friends or thinking they need to tend to social media. I’m all for it,” said Courtney McMullin.

“I totally agree with that, they shouldn’t have it in the classroom. I really don’t believe younger kids should have phones anyway,” said January Ewert. “The only concern is if there is an emergency, they can check their phone and it will be there, and when it’s their time to use it, then they can use it. So yeah, I totally agree with it.”

“I know the phones can help them a little bit doing some of their schoolwork, but I’m old time, and teachers taught us without cell phones 40 years ago and we turned out OK,” said Dennis Olsen, who was picking up his grandchild.

HB270 would “require a local education agency (LEA) to enforce the provisions of this bill, in the manner determined by the LEA.”

Lee said he understands the concern teachers may have about the burden of enforcement.

“They feel like this is giving them more to have to enforce, but once again, I am hoping to eliminate that and let school districts come up with policies to enforce this so that teachers don’t feel like they don’t have anyone backing them up,” Lee said.

HB270 is currently being discussed in the House Education Committee and has a fiscal note of “$15 per classroom to $15 per device to store and maintain student electronic devices.”

Lee hopes it’s a small price to pay to help Utah students focus on their education while in the classroom.

“We put a lot of money towards education, and to just have them go to school and tune out on the phones or just sit on social media, or other issues they’re having — I’d like to get rid of that and go back to social interactions, which kids learn best that way and just learning how to focus,” Lee said.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Education & Schools

Granite District K9...
Matt Rascon, Eliza Pace, and Lauren Steinbrecher

KSL+: Guns at schools and what’s being done about it?

Amid an increase in gun threats and incidents at some Utah schools, one school district is taking matters into its own hands to try and keep students safe.
24 hours ago
Follow @KSL5TVLike us on Facebook...
Madison Swenson

UPDATE: Lockout protocol lifted at four Saratoga Springs schools

At approximately 10:30 a.m. Thursday, the lockout protocol was lifted at Vista Heights Middle School, Thunder Ridge Elementary School, Lakeview Academy and Westlake High School in Saratoga Springs.
24 hours ago
Kaitlyn Bancroft

A Black USU grad says a professor drew a racist cartoon of him. Now he’s suing

A former graduate student filed a lawsuit Monday against Utah State University over how the school handled his complaints about a professor he says drew a racist cartoon of him.
3 days ago
Associated Press

Lawyer: 29-year-old who posed as teen student was lonely

A 29-year-old woman accused of using false documents to enroll as a New Jersey high school student and attend some classes over a four-day period did so because she was lonely and longed to return to her days with friends in school, her lawyer said.
3 days ago
C. Shane Reese was announced as BYU's next president. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU)...
Josh Ellis

BYU names C. Shane Reese as university’s 14th president

Christopher Shane Reese has been named the 14th president of Brigham Young University.
3 days ago
Sylvia Garcia, from Bassett Street Elementary, talks as she and other teachers attend a Los Angeles...
Christopher Weber, Associated Press

Los Angeles schools shut down as staff strike for better pay

Tens of thousands of workers in the Los Angeles Unified School District have walked off the job over stalled contract talks.
4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Close up of an offset printing machine during production...
Les Olson IT

Top 7 Reasons to Add a Production Printer to Your Business

Learn about the different digital production printers and how they can help your company save time and money.
vintage photo of lighting showroom featuring chandeliers, lamps, wall lights and mirrors...
Lighting Design

History of Lighting Design | Over 25 Years of Providing Utah With the Latest Trends and Styles

Read about the history of Lighting Design, a family-owned and operated business that paved the way for the lighting industry in Utah.
Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
How a Utah bill would put cell phones, smart devices on hold in the classroom