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Lawmaker Seeks to Ban Students’ Cell Phones From Nebraska Classrooms

A student receives a text message with her exam results on her mobile phone. (Getty Images)

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Smartphones in the hands of students in classrooms can be dangerous, as well as a learning barrier, an educator told a Nebraska legislative committee on March 1.

Diane Wigert relayed a personal experience in which she said she was “secretly recorded” as she was teaching. A version of the recording that she said was intentionally edited to negatively misrepresent her went viral, leading to personal distress and even death threats.

“My life and the lives of family members became a nightmare,” she said.

Away in storage bin

Wigert offered her account in support of a bill that would, with a few exceptions, require that students entering public classrooms put personal electronic devices away in a storage compartment.

Legislative Bill 1078 was introduced by Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair, who said his aim is to enhance the classroom learning environment and establish consistency in school policies across the state.

State Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

Enforcement of the bill would be left to the school district and school, the legislation says.

Hansen said the bill grew out of calls from teachers who reached out to him with their struggles. Pupils not paying attention. Pupils distracting others. Misbehavior. Cyberbullying. 

“All of this adds up,” Hansen said, “to barriers to learning.”

On the other hand, he said, electronics have the potential to open doors to information. Hansen acknowledged positives, but he said guidelines are needed.

‘Nanny state’

The Education Committee listened to public testimony, though it took no action March 1 on whether to advance the bill to full legislative debate.

Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, a member of the committee, said he struggled with the proposed legislation, saying it seemed like a “big government” and “nanny state” bill.

State Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln
(Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

Morfeld leaned on the side of teaching youths self-control and talked about his own classroom situations where he tells teenagers upfront to put cell phones away. On occasions when a device appears, Morfeld said, he calls the student out.

Hansen later said it’s hard to teach self-control with an “addictive device.”

Businesswoman Lynette Sorrentino, in her testimony, called smartphones “the new form of ADD.” Not Attention Deficit Disorder, she said, but Addictive Device Disorder.

Boundaries

“We need to be able to provide boundaries,” Sorrentino said, adding that kids do not have discernment to always know when it’s time to pocket a cell phone.

She said she’s not an opponent of the devices. Her own son had a cell phone at 10 years old in case of an emergency with his diabetes. And, Sorrentino said, her daughter had one at a younger age because, given a divorce situation, it was easier to reach her that way.

State Sen. Terrell McKinney of Omaha (Courtesy of Craig Chandler)

State Sen. Terrell McKinney of Omaha posed the question of whether student distraction was more the result of schools lacking innovative techniques to engage students.

He also said cell phones have, at times, been valuable in gaining evidence of wrongdoing.

Wigert, the educator who spoke of a nightmare cell-phone recording, said she understands how some might think the proposed legislation is too restrictive.

“But there are also people in our midst who do not know how to use (cell phones) appropriately.”

LB 1078 would allow for exceptions that include: teacher permission for an educational activity; a note from a health care provider or principal; instances when a student perceives a threat of “an emergency or harm to any person.” 

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: info@nebraskaexaminer.com. Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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