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Governor explains why he wants cell phones away from Virginia students while at school

Posted at 5:12 PM, Jul 10, 2024

RICHMOND, Va. -- Governor Glenn Youngkin doubled down one day after he issued Executive Order 33 directing the Virginia Department of Education to write state-wide guidance for school divisions to go "cell phone free."

"We're going to go through a very important process of one, making sure our kids are healthy, and second of all, that they can learn better," Youngkin said Wednesday.

The order also directed $500,000 to go toward mental health and cell phone safety initiatives.

"Cell phones and social media have, in fact, been very clearly determined to cause a massive increase in childhood suicidal ideation and depression," Youngkin said. "And on top of that, distraction in school has been identified as one of the greatest inhibitors of progress of our kids."

According to a 2023 Gallup survey, 51% of teenagers report spending at least four hours a day on their phone. Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests adolescents who spend more than three hours a day on social media face double the risk of mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.

Yet the move to go phone free is cause for concern for those who may need devices for medical reasons. The issue was flagged when Hanover County banned cell phones and headphones for all grade levels in a 6-1 vote, just hours after the Executive Order was issued.

Hanover School Board votes overwhelmingly to ban phones in county schools

"I'm wondering if you know the number of students who rely on their cellphone as medical device and will need to access them," said Kristin Stevens, a Mechanicsville resident.

In a statement, the Virginia Education Association, the commonwealth's largest teachers' union, urged VDOE to "engage in meaningful dialogue with educators to develop balanced guidelines."

The move drew bipartisan support. Senator Tim Kaine posted on X, saying in part, "I'm glad to see more action on the state level."

Richmond Public Schools said it has already seeing success from going phone-free at the middle and high school level.

Superintendent Jason Kamras said in a statement to CBS6: "We saw more student engagement in class and fewer distractions throughout the day. On top of that, students reported spending more time talking with their peers. Cell phones are incredible tools, but our schools are better off with them."

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