Michigan Looks To Ban Cell Phones In Schools

Michigan lawmakers have introduced a bill looking to require all schools to create policies that prohibit cell phone use on campuses.

By Kari Apted | Published

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Michigan state Rep. Gary Eisen has introduced a bill to ban cell phone use in school. His proposal would require every Michigan school district to prohibit children from using their cell phones on campus—even while riding the school bus. The bill has left many parents and educators questioning why such a sweeping prohibition is necessary, but the move follows a similar ban that was established at a Fresno, CA high school earlier this year.

House bill 6171 has just two sentences. “Beginning with the 2022-2023 school year, the board of a school district or intermediate school district or board of directors of a public school academy shall ensure that each school operated by the board of directors develops or adopts and implements a policy that prohibits the use of personal cellular devices by pupils enrolled in the school during the scheduled school day when the pupil is at school. ‘At school’ means in a classroom, elsewhere on school property, or on a school bus or other school-related vehicle.”

Rep. Eisen has the support of a sizeable group of Michiganders who agree that the devices interfere with learning. School officials tend to agree that cell phones distract students from their work and contribute to fights breaking out at school. Phones can also facilitate cheating, both by providing a discreet way to hide notes and a way to ask other students for the answers to quizzes and tests.

Allowing the widespread use of cell phones in school is, for some, a matter of safety. After the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas earlier this year, the debate intensified. Cell phones were a direct link between parents and students during this terrifying event, providing a way for children to call for help and for parents and law enforcement officers to learn exactly what was happening in real-time.

Parents and students aren’t eager to give up this direct line of communication for seven or more hours a day—even if school shootings remain extremely rare events. Parents like how they’re able to text supportive messages to a child having a bad day or notify their child directly if there’s a change in their after-school plans. Many students have become dependent on cell phones as study tools, using their devices to take notes, record lectures, and look up reference material.

Still, supporters of Rep. Eisen’s bill cite additional safety risks associated with children having cell phones. Kids who are being bullied at school sadly find that cell phones make it easy for their perpetrators to continue their abusive behavior around the clock. Phones also enable dangerous people to track a child’s location.

Some opponents of the bill feel that the decision on cell phone usage should be delegated to individual school systems instead of issuing a statewide ban. Many schools already prohibit cell phones during class time, limiting their use to lunch, free time between class blocks, and while riding the school bus. Other schools allow phones on campus but do little to enforce limits on use.

cell phones

Michigan Capitol Confidential managing editor James David Dickson asked various questions about the legal implications of Bill 6171, including whether anyone wants it, and if it will make classroom management more stressful for teachers. He said, “The bill is toothless in two ways: It proscribes no penalty for breaking it, and it credits districts for developing a policy, whether or not it is passed. Do Michigan schools really need more busywork from Lansing?”

Despite the fact that most parents wonder what is the best age to give their kids cell phones, the age at which cell phone ownership begins keeps dropping. According to Common Sense Media, the number of 8 to 10-year-olds with cell phones doubled between 2015 and 2021, although most children still receive their first phone around age 12 or 13. Whether their use of devices at school should be permitted or denied remains a point of contention in Michigan and around the nation.