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A cell phone ban might be on the way for Toronto schools. Why?

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The Toronto District School Board is considering a total ban of cell phones for students, a move the Ontario Ministry of Education says it welcomes.

TDSB Chair Rachel Chernos Lin submitted a notice of motion on Wednesday calling for the board to revisit its existing cell phone policy. As it stands, students are permitted to use their phones for educational, health and special education reasons, but according to Chernos Lin, this approach “is not working as well as it could.”

“The landscape of social media and smartphone use has changed dramatically in recent years with research showing that both have a significant impact on teens in terms of mental health, well-being and academic success,” she said in a written statement provided to CTV News Toronto. “A strong policy is needed that better supports teachers, is enforceable, and, ultimately, supports student well-being and academic achievement.”

In a follow-up interview with Newstalk1010, Chernos Lin said her hope is that a new cell phone policy would involve community consultation, so that the board can have "a really wide-ranging discussion and consideration of all sorts of aspects of this...we want to create a really great policy that will work well for us and particularly for our students."

Chernos Lin said she has heard from teachers that cell phone use is a significant concern in the classroom. "We want to make sure kids at school are focused on what the task at hand is in class, and that they're communicating with each other face-to-face," she said. "That's the great thing about being back in class with everybody."

"We still have landlines," she joked. "I know it's hard to believe, but we do. If parents are concerned, they can call the school's office if they really need to speak to their kid or have their child pulled out of class...we do expect some pushback, but I expect there will be a lot of happy parents about this."

The province first introduced a cell phone policy in 2019 with avenues for cell phone usage in place for students with educational or medical needs. Onus was put on individual school boards to establish their own codes of conduct in line with the provincial code of conduct.

In a statement to CP24, Ministry of Education representative Isha Chaudhuri said the provincial government is “committed to removing the learning distractions that are holding students back from focusing on the foundational skills that will set them up for success.”

“We welcome the TDSB’s actions to build on the government’s policy to ensure mobile devices are not used during instructional time, with exceptions build in for learning, medical purposes, or special education needs,” the statement continues.

The matter of cell phones within the TDSB is set to be considered on Jan. 18. If adopted, a committee will get to work on creating a new policy.

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