Hart school district looking at expanding cell phone ban to high schools 

Studies have shown that anxiety and depression have increased among teenagers since the rise of smart phones and social media. Adobe Stock photo.
Studies have shown that anxiety and depression have increased among teenagers since the rise of smart phones and social media. Adobe Stock photo.

After implementing a cell phone policy this year limiting the usage of personal devices during school hours at the junior high level, the William S. Hart Union High School District could be looking to expand that to include high schools. 

Prior to leaving the district, Superintendent Mike Kuhlman said the district was thinking about implementing such a policy prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but those talks were put on hold to deal with more immediate issues. 

La Mesa Junior High was the first school in the district to implement such a policy, which then-Principal Michelle Krantz described at a Hart district board meeting in September 2019. 

At that meeting, she said students were expected to have cell phones off and put away in their backpacks from the time they walk through the front gates of the school. Krantz added that she had received positive feedback from parents and teachers about improvements in school work and social life since the policy came to fruition. 

Four years later, the district extended the “no phone” policy to all junior highs, though some schools already had their own versions, according to Kuhlman. He added that all of the principals were pulled together in the spring of 2023 to make sure that they were all ready for this to take place. 

Those principals were then tasked with communicating to everyone what the expectations were. 

“It was a substantial change and we wanted to make sure people knew this was coming,” Kuhlman said. 

As far as expanding the policy to include high schools, Kuhlman said it’s something that could happen in the future, but it is not going to be in place for the start of the upcoming school year. 

The Los Angeles Unified School District board of education recently voted to ban cell phone use during the school day, starting in January 2025. 

Hart district governing board President Linda Storli said in a phone interview that she would rather implement the policy sooner than later, as many of the incoming ninth-graders are already used to it. 

She said in her walks through the junior highs, she noticed a different setting during break periods than what she has observed at the high schools. 

“The kids are all talking to each other,” she said. “At the high schools, the kids are on their cell phones and they’re not interacting.” 

Improving the social skills of students is one of the goals of the district, along with improving academic skills.  

Board member Erin Wilson is also in favor of limiting cell phone usage during the school day, saying that while there is no getting away from technology and that it has its purposes, there are dangers associated with too much device usage in adolescents. 

She referenced a warning put out earlier this month by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy comparing tobacco and alcohol to social media. He also called on Congress to require warning labels to be put on social media platforms “to highlight their potential harm to children’s mental health.” 

Wilson also referenced a book written by Jonathan Haidt titled “The Anxious Generation” that details how mental health in adolescents plunged in the 2010s. Using data from the U.S National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, the American College Health Association and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Haidt made the following findings: 

  • A 145% increase in depression among girls since 2010 and a 161% among boys. 
  • A 134% increase in anxiety and 106% increase in depression among college students since 2010. 
  • A more-than-twofold increase in anxiety among adults ages 18-34 since 2010. 
  • A 188% increase in emergency room visits for self-harm among girls since 2020 and a 48% increase among boys. 
  • A 91% increase in suicide rates among boys since 2010 and a 167% increase among girls. 

Haidt also found that those rates’ increasing correlates with an exponential rise in smartphone and social media usage during that time. 

Wilson said personal devices and social media have their uses, but kids need to learn when it is appropriate to use them. 

“There’s no getting away from technology,” she said. 

The hope, Wilson added, is to communicate with parents, students and other community partners to see if there would be any pushback. She said, however, that as she has talked to people in and around the district, they all seem to want some sort of change. 

That doesn’t mean she doesn’t see the benefit of having a cell phone. Both she and Storli, along with Kuhlman, all mentioned that, in an emergency, cell phones would absolutely be allowed to be used. In all other cases, though, each school site has dedicated phones for students to use should they need to contact someone during the school day. 

Storli said the LAUSD ban had no effect on her thoughts on the matter, as she and other board members have been pushing for this to be in place since prior to the pandemic. 

“We should have thought about doing this long before LAUSD,” Storli said. 

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