Ontario to ban cellphones from classrooms starting next school year
Published Tuesday, March 12, 2019 5:54AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, March 12, 2019 8:08PM EDT
Ontario students will no longer be able to use their cellphones in the classroom next September, as Premier Doug Ford makes good on a populist campaign promise.
CTV News Toronto has confirmed that the Ministry of Education will change the code of conduct for students and teachers, implementing a ban on smartphone use during class time but allowing local school boards to decide how to enforce the new rules.
“Ontario’s students need to be able to focus on their learning – not their cellphones,” Education Minister Lisa Thompson said in a statement.
“By banning cellphone use that distracts from learning, we are helping students to focus on acquiring the foundational skills they need like reading, writing and math.”
The new student code of conduct is expected to have strict guidelines for cellphone use, including preventing students from placing their phones face-down on desks, even with the ringer set to silent.
Students would be allowed to bring their phones into the classroom, the government said, but usage would be reserved for educational and emergency situations.
“Obviously for emergency purposes, for medical purposes and for specific courses that require technological platforms – they’d be permissible,” Progressive Conservative MPP Stephen Lecce told CTV News Toronto.
The government said teachers and parents overwhelmingly supported banning cellphone use during telephone town halls and surveys conducted last fall, in which 97 per cent of the 35,000 respondents advocated for the move.
Among the feedback sent to the ministry of education, educators complained that phones were not only a distraction but that students were also using them to cheat and share unflattering photographs of teachers on social media.
Ministry of education officials, speaking on background, said students wouldn’t be expected to lock up their phones and while enforcement will be difficult, it will be left up to school boards.
“Parents deserve to know it, students deserve to know it for their own protection, and to be fair, educators want how they’re going to have that enforceability,” Lecce said.
While Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner agrees that cellphones can be a distraction, he is critical of what he describes as the government’s “top-down regulation” approach.
“The Ford government is just duplicating powers that educators already have to control cellphone use in their classrooms. Instead of empowering schools to create reasonable cell phone use policies, Ford is promising a province-wide ban that is impossible to enforce,” Schreiner said in a statement.
The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) abandoned a cellphone ban policy back in 2011 after officials determined that it was next to impossible to enforce. The board opted to give teachers greater latitude to integrate smartphones into classwork.
“Maybe in math class you’re using it simply as a calculator, maybe in history class you’re using it for research – it makes sense. But in another class there may be no reason you should have a cellphone out, in that case students may be told to put it away for now, that they don’t need them,” TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird said on Tuesday.
“I think we’re going to have to look at exactly what they (the province) announces and see how we will go about enforcing it. But a distraction is a distraction, regardless of if it’s a cellphone or not and teachers have been doing that for decades. It may take some adjustments, but really this is something they’ve been doing for a number of years.”
The Peel District School Board policy states that students “will use devices responsibly” only after getting permission and direction from teachers.
Government officials said the code of conduct for teachers would also be changed, preventing them from letting students use their phones unless it is for education purposes.