Youngkin issues order to limit cellphones in Virginia schools

The Virginia Department of Education is tasked with getting input from parents, students, teachers and stakeholders before formulating a policy

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Public school students across the state of Virginia could be banned from using their cell phones in class in the coming months.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued an executive order Tuesday to establish "cellphone-free education," saying the initiative aims to improve youth mental health and safety.

The Republican governor's order directs the Virginia Department of Education to come up with policies and procedures for age-appropriate restrictions or to eliminate cellphones in class for grades K-12, Youngkin's administration said in a news release Tuesday. The order also calls on the VDOE to lay out a plan for parents to contact their children during emergencies and "other important situations."

“Today’s Executive Order both establishes the clear goal to protect the health and safety of our students by limiting the amount of time they are exposed to addictive cell phones and social media and eliminates clear distractions in the classroom," Youngkin said in the release.

Parents, students, teachers, school leaders and stakeholders will have an opportunity to voice their opinions to the VDOE before it publishes a draft of its guidance on Aug. 15. Then, there will be a feedback period before the department finalizes its guidance in September.

The new policies won't go into effect until Jan. 1, 2025, Youngkin's office said.

"The more we learn, the more we know that too much screen time - especially time spent on addictive apps - is harmful to kids' physical and mental health," Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources Janet Kelly said in Tuesday's release.

Kelly cited the recent call U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy made for Congress to require a tobacco-style warning for visitors to social media platforms. Murthy said the mental health crisis among young people is an urgent problem, with social media “an important contributor.”

The American Psychological Association said teens spend nearly five hours every day on platforms like YouTube, TikTok and Instagram.

Youngkin's office said the VDOE and the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services, DBDHS, will make $500,000 available from existing funds to carry out the order.

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