Gov. Mike DeWine signing legislation to limit cellphones in schools. (Photo by Nick Evans, Ohio Capital Journal.)

BY:  Ohio Capital Journal

At a Dublin middle school Wednesday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed legislation ordering school districts around the state to develop written policies for cellphones on campus. The state education department will write it’s own model policy that districts may adopt, but so long as they come up with something to keep cellphone use “as limited as possible” districts can do what they like.

District level view

Several districts around the state stood up their own cellphone policies well before state lawmakers acted. Dublin City Schools, for instance, prohibited cell phones in high school classrooms this year, but they eliminated them completely for middle schools.

“It’s so much fun to walk into a middle school lunch again,” Superintendent John Marschhausen explained. “Because it used to be you’d go in and it’d be somewhat quiet, kids looking down at their phones. But now that it’s loud, it’s fun, and the interaction and the interpersonal skills that students learn is increasing.”

 Dublin City Schools Superintendent John Marschhausen. (Photo by Nick Evans, Ohio Capital Journal.) 

The law carries a provision retroactively blessing the policies Dublin and other school districts instituted if they meet the minimum standards laid out in law. Although it’s too soon to connect the policy changes to outcomes like test scores, Marschhausen explained the impact is still showing up in noticeable ways.

“Our discipline is down, our bullying is down,” he explained. Without kids on social media during the day, he added, teachers and administrators aren’t forced to respond to the latest post and students’ group chats aren’t fanning the flames of that day’s drama.

“When they go to class they learn,” Marschhausen said. “So we have statistical data for discipline that shows an improvement.”

In a press release, Ohio Education Association President Scott DiMauro applauded the legislation, but he argued teachers — the eventual frontline of whatever policy a district establishes — need to be included in the planning process.

“This law will ensure educators have clear guidance and support while allowing for local flexibility to set policies that will improve learning conditions,” he stated. “Our members must be included in the development of those local policies.”

Signing ceremony

In the Karrer Middle School library, DeWine emphasized the potential for distraction that cellphones present. Nearly all teenagers have a phone, he argued, and notifications roll in according to one study, about once every five minutes.

“Even when students don’t check their cell phones — or when adults don’t check their cell phones — the presence of the phone impacts their ability to think,” DeWine said.

Like Superintendent Marschhausen, the governor brought up the return of noisy lunchrooms. Lt. Gov. Jon Husted reported district leaders who have restricted access to phones report “the facts are clear.”

“Eliminating smartphones in schools leads to improved academic performance, reduces bullying and lessens disciplinary issues,” Husted said.

In his statements, DeWine referenced author Johnathan Haidt’s book “The Anxious Generation,” which kicked off a national discussion about removing phones in schools a few months ago.

The administration’s victory lap comes after a brief and painless trip through the state legislature. DeWine urged lawmakers to act just five weeks ago in his State of the State address, and after hitching a ride on a noncontroversial bill dealing with military seals on high school diplomas, the idea passed both chambers unanimously.

“You don’t get a unanimous vote out this legislature, or very few legislatures, on anything other than naming roads,” DeWine quipped after signing the bill.

The governor said he expects state education officials to have their model policy ready for districts within the next ten days or so. The law take effect in mid-August, right in time for kids to head back to school.

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.

Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.



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