Statewide effort to limit cell phones in Virginia schools launched by Governor Youngkin

Richmond, Virginia – Governor Glenn Youngkin has issued Executive Order 33, directing the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to create guidance for public school divisions to establish cell phone-free education policies. This initiative aims to address the impact of cell phone and social media usage on education and youth mental health.

Collaborative Development of Policies

The Executive Order instructs VDOE to engage with parents, students, teachers, local school leaders, and other stakeholders to develop age-appropriate policies that restrict or eliminate cell phone use during instructional time. These policies will also include protocols for parents to contact their children in emergencies. The VDOE will initiate a series of public engagements to ensure comprehensive input from all relevant parties.

Funding for Implementation

Governor Youngkin announced that the VDOE and the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services (DBDHS) will allocate $500,000 from existing funds to support this initiative. This funding will facilitate the implementation of the new policies and enhance mental health and safety in schools.

Addressing Youth Mental Health

Governor Youngkin emphasized the importance of creating a healthier educational environment. “Creating cell phone and social media-free educational environments in Virginia’s K-12 education system will benefit students, parents, and educators,” he said. The goal is to reduce distractions in the classroom and protect students’ mental health by limiting their exposure to addictive devices and social media.

Data on Social Media Impact

The initiative is backed by alarming statistics. Children spend an average of 4.8 hours a day on social media, and studies indicate that spending more than three hours a day on social media doubles the risk of poor mental health for adolescents. From 2019 to 2021, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported a significant increase in suicide rates and depression among boys and girls.

Support from State Officials

Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera highlighted the need for community involvement in addressing the issue. “Government cannot be the sole solution to this crisis; school communities – especially parents and teachers – must work together to discuss and develop common-sense approaches to limit screen time.”

Secretary of Health and Human Resources Janet Kelly echoed this sentiment, pointing out the harm excessive screen time causes to children’s physical and mental health. She referenced a recent advisory from the Surgeon General suggesting warning labels on social media apps, which aligns with the goals of Executive Order 33.

Implementation Timeline

The VDOE is tasked with publishing draft guidance by August 15, with final guidance to be issued in September. Local school divisions are expected to adopt cell phone-free education policies by January 1, 2025. However, schools are encouraged to implement these policies sooner if possible.

Stakeholder Engagement

To develop effective policies, the Department of Education will hold listening sessions and engage stakeholders over the next six weeks. This will include gathering feedback on best practices already in place and identifying effective strategies for implementing cell phone-free education.

Addressing Learning Disruptions

Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Coons emphasized the disruptions caused by cell phones and digital media in classrooms. “Cell phones and digital media have caused pre-teens and teens to disconnect from the real world, have increased mental health challenges, and have caused significant disruption in the important daily learning opportunities in their classrooms.”

Supporting Local Efforts

Funding from VDOE and DBDHS will support state and local efforts, including family nights and community engagement on youth mental health and cell phone use. Microgrants will be available to school divisions needing assistance in implementing best practices.

Enhancing Learning Environments

While some Virginia school divisions have already implemented cell phone limitation protocols, this Executive Order represents the first statewide effort to enhance learning by restricting cell phone use during instructional time. Studies show that students using phones in class learn less and achieve lower grades, underscoring the need for this initiative.

For more information and to engage in the discussion, visit the VDOE’s website.

Donald Wolfe

Donald’s writings have appeared in HuffPost, Washington Examiner, The Saturday Evening Post, and The Virginian-Pilot, among other publications. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia. He is the Virginian Tribune's Publisher.

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