Ed-Tech Policy Video

School Cellphone Ban Is Critical for ‘Addicted’ Students, NYC Chancellor Says

Chancellor David Banks offers more details on the forthcoming policy in an interview with Education Week
By Libby Stanford — June 28, 2024 6 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The nation’s largest school district is poised to ban students’ cellphone use during the school day a few months into the 2024-25 school year, providing a major boost to a national movement to keep students away from their smartphones so they can focus on learning and in-person interactions with classmates and teachers.

Next week, New York City public schools Chancellor David Banks and Mayor Eric Adams plan to announce their initiative to cut down on cellphone use in the district of more than 900,000 students.

“I can’t stop the kids from having phones, and I want them to certainly be in communication with their parents and families when school is over or even on their way to school,” Banks said in a June 27 interview with Education Week. “But during the school day, I see no good reason for the kids to have access to their phones.”

See Also

cellphone distraction policy bans in schools static
Laura Baker/Education Week via canva
Ed-Tech Policy Tracker Which States Ban or Restrict Cellphones in Schools?
Arianna Prothero, June 28, 2024
1 min read

Banks and Adams have not released the details of their plan, but the chancellor told Education Week that the policy would likely involve taking phones from students in some fashion before they enter the school building. That way, he said, enforcement doesn’t fall to teachers.

With New York City’s schools under mayoral control, the policy can take effect without local board approval.

New York’s plan follows widespread calls to cut down on social media and smartphone use among young people as concerns over their worsening mental health rise. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, has said that she plans to introduce a bill that would ban smartphones in schools statewide.

Last week, the Los Angeles Unified district, the second largest in the country, voted to bar students from using smartphones at school, starting in January. That measure has the support of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who has called for statewide restrictions on cellphone use.

Florida and Indiana already have laws banning cellphones from classrooms, and Ohio passed a law earlier this year requiring districts to develop policies that would limit student cellphone use. In a recent New York Times opinion piece, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called on Congress to require a warning label on social media platforms. Last year, Murthy issued an advisory warning of the harmful effects social media can have on developing brains.

A cellphone ban in New York City schools was previously in place until 2015, when then-Mayor Bill de Blasio reversed the policy of his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg. Since then, policies have varied from school to school and even classroom to classroom, according to Chalkbeat New York.

While cellphone restrictions take hold across the country, they can vary in form, from outright phone bans during the school day to policies that ban phones only during class periods while allowing students to use them between classes and at lunch. Some districts have different restrictions by grade level. Many have students seal their phones in magnetic pouches during the school day and unlock them on their way out of the building.

See Also

A cell phone sits on a student's desk during a 9th grade honors English class at Bel Air High School in Bel Air, Md., on Jan. 25, 2024.
A cellphone sits on a student's desk during a 9th grade honors English class at Bel Air High School in Bel Air, Md., on Jan. 25, 2024. The policies that districts and schools use to manage the use of cellphones during the school day vary widely.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week
Ed-Tech Policy 6 Ways Schools Are Managing Students’ Cellphone Use
Lauraine Langreo, April 25, 2024
5 min read

Can a smartphone ban improve students’ mental health and safety?

The main concern for Banks is students’ mental health.

Many educators have linked social media and smartphone use to worsening mental health among students, although research on the topic is mixed. Young people’s mental health has been on a long-term decline for more than a decade, covering a period in which smartphones and social media have become dominant. Researchers have established correlations between heavy social media use and poor mental health, and some assert there’s a causal link, but there’s not universal agreement that it’s the primary cause of mental health declines.

“We are seeing the harmful effects of these phones and the access to the internet all across the nation,” Banks said. “In fact, across the world, kids have become fully addicted to these phones.”

Phones have been the catalyst for student fights and safety concerns, as students can argue via text and other messaging platforms when they should be studying, the chancellor said. They’ve also made students less social and prone to severe mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation, Banks said.

Cyberbullying is also a top concern.

“We don’t think it’s a panacea,” he said of a ban. “I don’t think taking phones away is going to mean it’s going to solve all the issues, but we have absolutely seen an increase in mental health issues.”

See Also

Anthony Bruno, a student at Washington Junior High School, uses the unlocking mechanism as he leaves classes for the day to open the bag that his cell phone was sealed in during the school day on Oct. 27, 2022, in Washington, Pa. Citing mental health, behavior and engagement as the impetus, many educators are updating cellphone policies, with a number turning to magnetically sealing pouches.
Anthony Bruno, a student at Washington Junior High School, uses the unlocking mechanism as he leaves classes for the day to open the bag that his cell phone was sealed in during the school day on Oct. 27, 2022, in Washington, Pa. In California, the Los Angeles Unified School District has banned students from using cellphones during the school day.
Keith Srakocic/AP

How to get parents and teachers on board with school cellphone bans

The plan to ban cellphones likely won’t take effect immediately at the start of the 2024-25 school year, Banks said. Instead, the district is planning to ease schools into the policy over a few months, a similar approach to the Los Angeles Unified policy that will take effect in January 2025.

That timeline is meant to provide schools time to work out implementation challenges and give parents and teachers time to become comfortable with the policy. Banks has been working with principals, parents, students, and the United Federation of Teachers, the city’s teachers’ union, to develop the plan. He said there’s a lot of support from teachers and principals.

The teachers’ union’s president, Michael Mulgrew, told the New York Daily News that the policy would need to include a plan for helping teachers implement it.

“Phones have become more and more of an issue inside of the schools,” Mulgrew told the newspaper. “But the real issue is if we’re going to do this, then we have to have a plan for the largest school system in the country.”

Survey data from within the past year show that teachers’ attitudes toward campuswide cellphone bans are far from uniform.

Nearly 1 in every 4 teachers thought cellphones should be banned from school campuses in a nationally representative EdWeek Research Center survey conducted last fall. But teachers also say it can be tricky to enforce such bans, especially if there isn’t broad systemic support in place.

See also

Photo of distracted high school students in class.
E+ / Getty

In New York City, the idea behind taking phones before classes start is so teachers can avoid confrontations with defiant students, Banks said.

“We don’t want a policy in place that puts teachers in confrontation with kids over their phone,” Banks said.

The policy will also apply to smartwatches and other devices so students can’t use those to get around the district’s phone ban. Banks said the district has had to keep up with constant changes in technology as students find new ways around rules.

“The kids are going to be actively figuring out ways around this,” Banks said. “We’re going to do the best that we can. It may not be perfect, but even if we get 90 percent of the kids [following the ban], I think that would be a big deal.”

The district is cognizant of parents’ safety concerns, the chancellor said. Many parents have shared with Banks and other school leaders that they’re worried their children won’t be able to reach them in an emergency, which is a common concern other districts have encountered when contemplating phone restrictions.

Banks clarified that students will still be able to bring their phones onto school grounds so they can communicate with parents before and after school.

“The biggest concern from parents is that when an emergency happens they need to be in touch with the child,” Banks said. “We think you can certainly call the school, which is what we’ve always done throughout history.”


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Principals, Lead Stronger in the New School Year
Join this free virtual event for a deep dive on the skills and motivation you need to put your best foot forward in the new year.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Privacy & Security Webinar
Navigating Modern Data Protection & Privacy in Education
Explore the modern landscape of data loss prevention in education and learn actionable strategies to protect sensitive data.
Content provided by  Symantec & Carahsoft

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Ed-Tech Policy Can Schools and Vendors Work Together Constructively on AI? A New Guide May Help
A top priority is greater transparency about how AI-driven products are designed and tested.
4 min read
Ed-Tech Policy Here's What Tech-Savvy Educators Think About Cellphone Bans in Schools
Educators at the International Society for Technology in Education's annual conference have a mix of opinions on cellphone bans.
5 min read
Photo illustration of cell phone with red circle and slash.
iStock / Getty Images Plus
Ed-Tech Policy Smartwatches: The Next Challenge for School Cellphone Policies
A growing number of schools are implementing stringent cellphone policies. But how many include smartwatches?
4 min read
Family Setup brings the Apple Watch experience to the entire family, including kids and older adults.
Teachers say smartwatches, like the Apple Watches pictured here, are a growing distraction in class.
Business Wire via AP
Ed-Tech Policy What Happened When This District Did an About-Face on Cellphones
Cellphones and other technologies have altered parents’ expectations about how on-demand kids and teachers should be.
3 min read
A student takes notes on their cell phone during class at Bel Air High School in Bel Air, Md., on Jan. 25, 2024.
Schools across the country are struggling with whether to allow students to use cellphones in class.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week