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TDSB trustees vote to develop policy that would limit student cellphone use

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) will create a new policy that would limit students’ use of cellphones in class.

During the meeting of the TDSB’s Governance and Policy Committee Wednesday night, trustees approved a motion that proposes the development of a new cellphone and mobile device policy.

The motion put forward by Ward 11 Don Valley West Trustee Rachel Chernos Lin cited research that shows cellphone use is not beneficial to learning and may, in fact, be creating “significant harm to children and teens” in terms of their mental health, well-being and academic success.

Presenting the motion, Lin said it was crucial that a new policy is established.

“Because one of the things I’ve heard the most from repeatedly in the five years I’ve been a trustee and increasingly in the last two years, since the pandemic and since we’ve been back in school, is that parents and teachers are really concerned about the use of mobile devices, cell phones, smartphones, in schools by students, and its interruption to learning, and its impact that it’s having in the classroom,” she said.

The new policy will build on current strategies, review best practices in other jurisdictions and feedback from students, teachers, staff and community members during the consultation process.

“I really envision a policy that’s very clear, that sets a culture of what place a cell phone would have in a school, or might not in certain cases,” Lin said.

Ahead of the meeting, the trustee posted on X (formerly Twitter) that “what we have isn’t working.”

Lin said the motion is aimed at creating a cellphone policy “that has teeth.”

The Ministry Of Education issued revisions to the provincial code of conduct in 2019 to include a restriction on the use of personal mobile devices during instructional time. It allows cellphone use for educational purposes, health and medical purposes, and to support special education needs.

The trustees say that the landscape of social media and smartphone use has “changed dramatically in recent years” and that the board needs to update its cellphone policy to incorporate the revised guidance as part of its 2023-2024 policy review.

“I think this is a really important time to reconsider it, to build something great and focus on student success and student achievement,” Lin said.

Speaking with CP24 Wednesday, she pointed to a UNESCO report this past summer which said cellphone use in classrooms distracts kids.

“It’s taking away from their learning, and I think we need to take notice and do something about it,” Lin said.

While she acknowledged that technology is not going away, she said students need to be taught to self-regulate and the discussion around a new policy for cellphones should include the sort of classroom environment that is best for kids.

“I also think that we’re going to have a really rich discussion and figure out the best way forward to ensure that we’re creating an environment that supports teachers so that they’re not just policing this all the time,” Lin said. “But also create a culture in our classrooms where we’re focused on learning, where we’re focused on peer-to-peer interactions in our classroom, where we’re focused on conversation with each other as opposed to our screen. And while there may be a place for that, we also need to focus on what’s really best for kids.”

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