Utah Governor to Schools: Remove Cellphones During Class Time

Many schools in Utah have already moved forward with schoolwide cellphone policies to restrict student access.

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Spurred by his concerns about social media’s impact on children, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox on Wednesday announced he’s encouraging schools to adopt cellphone-free policies in their classrooms.

Cox has sent letters to district and charter school leaders, school principals, community council members and the State Board of Education “sharing his concerns about the harmful effects social media has on our children and asking them to remove cellphones during class time,” Cox’s office said in a news release.

“We all know that cellphones are a distraction and when we put phones away we can actually focus and study,” Cox said. “Cellphone-free learning environments will help our teachers teach and our students learn.”

The governor said “we want to give our schools every opportunity to succeed” and he hopes Utah’s public and charter schools “will join me in this effort to keep phones in backpacks or lockers during class time.”

A spokeswoman for Cox told Utah News Dispatch the governor isn’t going as far as to encourage teachers to feel free to take away cellphones during class time, but rather he’s encouraging schools and their districts to adopt cellphone-free policies. He’s recommended “educators engage with parents and collaborate as they work together to develop cellphone policies,” according to his office.

Utah is currently suing social media companies including Meta and TikTok, alleging their platforms are addictive and mentally harmful to children.

Last year, Utah also became the first state in the nation to pass two pieces of legislation prohibiting minors from using social media between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. unless authorized by a parent. The new laws, which take effect March 1, also require age verification to open and maintain a social media account in the state.

NetChoice, a group representing TikTok and other major tech companies, filed a federal suit against Utah in December, alleging the state’s regulations are unconstitutional because they restrict access to public content, compromise data security and undermine parental rights, the Associated Press reported.

What’s happening in schools already restricting cellphones?

Cox’s office noted many schools in Utah have already moved forward with schoolwide cellphone policies to restrict student access, pointing to Delta High School and Millard School District’s “cellphone-free” policy, requiring students to put their phones in a clear pocket that hangs in front of the classroom.

“It was a battle to begin with, but it has been so worth it,” said Jared Christensen, vice principal of Delta High School, in a prepared statement. “Students and parents have all adapted, our teachers are happier and learning has increased.”

Cox’s office also said schools have “shared experiences that are supported by compelling national data,” citing an article written by Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the NYU Stern School of Business titled “The Case for Phone-Free Schools.

Haidt wrote “research is clear: Smartphones undermine attention, learning, relationships and belonging.”

Evergreen Junior High in Granite School District also does not allow cellphones to be out anytime during the day — in classrooms, halls or lunchrooms. Cox’s office said one of the reasons Evergreen Junior High “has been so successful” with adopting and implementing their cellphone policy is “that they proactively educate parents on the benefits.”

“It’s so much easier to just ban them altogether,” said Evergreen Principal Ryan Shaw. “Learning has improved, and our scores reflect that. Bullying and fighting have decreased. The students connect with each other in a more meaningful way. We are grateful for the support we have from our community council — it’s been critical.”

Utah News Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Utah News Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor McKenzie Romero for questions: info@utahnewsdispatch.com. Follow Utah News Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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