Changing School Cell Phone Policies Now

Students are more distracted than ever by their phones. If you're worried about cell phones in class affecting your students, here's a policy that can help.

Delaney Ruston is a coproducer of the documentary Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age. The film explores the many struggles students have with social media, cell phones, video games, academics, and internet addiction. This article originally appeared on

As the school year winds down, more and more teachers, parents, and principals from all over the country are in the process of changing their school’s cell phone policies.

Our initiative to transform schools into cell phone–free spaces—called “Away For The Day” (AFTD)—was initially intended for middle schools. But the tools we created for people wanting to change school policies through AFTD are being used in high schools as well. In fact, the resources and research are relevant to all school grades. We have many testimonials, sample policies, answers to common pushbacks, and ways to take action to help you bring an Away For The Day cell phone policy to your school.

Related: A 5-Step Guide to Unplugging From Technology This Semester

For middle school–age students, we believe that having phones in their lockers (or backpacks) during the school day is the best policy. This is what we mean by “away for the day.”

Regarding high schools, Away For The Day is taking a different direction. It’s common to have each teacher decide their own classroom cell phone policy. But high schools are now realizing that establishing a universal policy across the school, where phones are put away during class time, is a much better option.

For many schools, the process takes time to vet and get approved by all the various stakeholders. My coproducer on Screenagers served on a committee at Drake High School that helped bring about a cell phone policy change. The process started in May 2017, and it took until April 2018 for it to get voted into action.

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The simple act of placing phones in a classroom cell phone pocket holder, basket, or the like minimizes distractions by limiting immediate access to the phone—but at the same time, teachers have the flexibility to ask students to use their phone for an assignment when needed.

Drake High School Assistant Principal Chad Stewart talks about the change in an article in the Marin Independent Journal: “There is an agreement that when they walk into a classroom next year, every student will park their cellphone in a holding area so they will be distraction-free during the class.”

I regularly hear from teachers that kids are playing Fortnite on their phones during class. They just can’t resist the urge when the phone is in their pockets. The research is clear: 75% of teachers report that attention spans of students decrease when the phone is accessible. But when the phones are parked in cell phone holders, the teacher doesn’t have to worry, and the student doesn’t have to feel the pull of the distraction.

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The director of operations at a high school in Virginia wrote to us that they changed their policy in 2016: “Students are asked to place their phone in the caddy when they enter class and can pick it up on their way out.” She goes on to say that “students honestly said they were surprised at how much less stress they felt knowing they couldn’t check their phone during class.”

Read the full article here on the Tech Talk Tuesdays blog. And for more advice on how to help your students succeed in high school, check out our Counselors section.

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Away For The Day cell phone policies cell phones changing school policies counselors parents phones in high school phones in school smartphones technology

About Delaney Ruston, MD

Dr. Delaney Ruston is a documentary filmmaker and primary care physician. She is the coproducer of the documentary Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age.


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