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Ontario to ban cellphones in schools starting in September

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Ontario is introducing a suite of measures that will crack down on cellphone use and vaping in schools.

The new rules will go into effect in the 2024-2025 academic year.

As of September, students in kindergarten to Grade 6 will be asked to keep their phones on silent and out of sight for the entire day, unless permitted by an educator.

Students between Grades 7 and 12 have a little more flexibility, with cellphones only banned during class time.

If a student breaks the rules, their cellphone should be immediately surrendered to a staff members and parents will be notified.

“We have heard loud and clear from parents and teachers alike that cellphones in classrooms are distracting kids from learning,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement released Sunday.

“When it comes to cellphones, our policy is ‘out of sight and out of mind,’ as we get students back to the basics by restoring focus, safety and common sense back in Ontario schools.”

As part of the new policy, social media sites will be banned from all school networks and devices. The government will also ban sharing and recording videos or photos of individuals without explicit consent, although it’s unclear how this will be monitored or enforced.

At a news conference, Lecce told reporters that teachers’ judgement will be respected on when and how technology will be used in the classroom.

“This is about restoring focus during instructional time,” Lecce said. “Outside of that, during lunch or recess or spares, we're going to try to treat kids with a sense of personal responsibility.”

Teachers will also be asked to include comments on students’ distraction levels in class within report cards.

Lynn Posluns, President and CEO of Women’s Brain Health Initiative, applauded the change.

"While we know that social media and screens can be helpful tools if used correctly, too much screen time or bad influences on social media can harm a developing brain - whether it's inside or outside of the classroom," she said in a statement, noting their research suggests "troubling trends towards increasing screent imes and decreasing sleep times."

"We must take this opportunity to educate teachers, parents, and children on ways in which they can mitigate the risk of overusing technology and why it is harmful to their mental health."

The policy changes come as four Ontario school boards launch lawsuits against multiple social media platforms, claiming their products negligently interfere with student learning and have caused “widespread disruption to the education system.”

The suits allege that Snapchat, TikTok, and Meta have “knowingly and/or negligently disrupted and fundamentally changed the school [and] learning.”

Premier Doug Ford has called the lawsuit “nonsense.”

The Progressive Conservatives tried to implement a cellphone ban in 2019, asking school boards to come up with a policy restricting use for educational, health and medical purposes during class time. The changes to the provincial and school board codes of conduct made it clear the restrictions applied to students on school property, at school-related events, or in virtual settings.

The same exemptions will remain in place, the minister confirmed.

Lecce said the only difference between the 2019 policy and the 2024 policy is that there is consistency province-wide.

“This time we're going to be updating the curriculum to include mandatory learning for young children on the perils of vaping and on responsible use of technology, particularly concepts like digital citizenship.”

Karen Littlewood, President of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, told CP24 that she doesn't see a difference in the policies.

"Many schools have policies in place regarding cellphones. They are an issue and we totally support addressing mental health issues in the schools, bullying and harassement, but I’m not really sure how a ban is going to solve the prolems that we currently have in education," she said.

"We are going to spend a lot of time policing cellphones and not teaching."

The minister said success will be measured in academic achievement and test scores.

What’s changing with vaping?

The government already announced in its 2024 budget that it would spend $30 million to install vape detectors and other security upgrades in schools.

Students caught with vape or e-cigarette products on school property as of September will be required to surrender them and parents will be notified immediately.

The government will require that schools post signage in public spaces that outline “behavioural expectations” and a marketing campaign will be launched that’s directed at students and parents to increase awareness of the new policy.

The pricetag for these changes is about $17.5 million, with $15 million earmarked for addictive behaviour supports.

Officials say that a PA day will be used to provide teachers and staff with mandatory training on practices to remove distractions.

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