Crackdown on cell phones and vapes

TORONTO – Looking to improve school outcomes and lessen distractions, Ontario’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced a crackdown on cellphone use in school and vaping.

“We have heard loud and clear from parents and teachers alike that cellphones in classrooms are distracting kids from learning,” said Lecce at an April 28 news conference. “Our government is introducing the toughest policy in Canada to tackle this issue by cracking down on cellphone usage during class time, as well as banning vaping in all schools.”

The move is an extension of policies first put in place in 2019, but were relaxed somewhat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beginning in September 2024, Kindergarten to Grade 6 students will need to keep their phones on silent and placed out of sight during the school day. Grade 7-12 students cannot use phones during class time. In both cases, teachers in classrooms can allow the use of cellphones.

Access to social media platforms on school networks and devices will also be removed or blocked. Report cards will also be updated to comment on student distraction levels in class.

“When it comes to cellphones, our policy is ‘out of sight and out of mind,’” said Lecce. “We recognize that some parents want to communicate with their children during school, and the policies listed above will still permit that during non-instructional time or when an educator gives permission.”

School boards have until September to update policies on handling cell phones and other mobile devices, and limiting its computer networks. Network restrictions at school will still be able to be bypassed if students have their own dataplan and do not use school-based internet.

The crackdown follows legal action by four school boards in Ontario, which are jointly suing the makers of Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and TikTok – all which have been anectodally tied to higher distraction levels by students and caused social harm.

Also included in Lecce’s Sunday announcement is a crackdown on vaping in schools. If students are caught using or carrying vapes or cigarettes, they will be confiscated and parents or guardians notified. The province will also install vape detectors and other security upgrades in schools to control the use of these products.

During his announcement, Lecce said that the changes with this announcement will mean a more consistent use and enforcement of the rules compared to the original changes in 2019. Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, said removing vaping products from schools will help protect students from “preventable threats.”

“Ontario is seeing a growing number of youth in Grades 7 through 12 using vaping products that contain and emit many toxic substances. These products can affect the respiratory, immune and cardiovascular systems, and nicotine in these products is particularly harmful to youth brain development. ”

Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation president Karen Littlewood said that schools in Ontario already have policies for cellphone use.

“They are an issue and we totally support addressing mental health issues in the schools, bullying and harassment, but I’m not really sure how a ban is going to solve the problems that we currently have in education,” she said.

Officials with the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario called the announcement a “channel change.”

“The truth is that banning cell phones in Ontario Education does absolutely nothing to address the chronic under-funding of our schools,” said the union.

The province will spend $30 million for detectors, and $17.5 million for mental heath supports for students relating to the two crackdowns.

According to the Ministry of Education, the ban on social media will extend beyond just students. Staff personal mobile devices will be subject to a policy that has clear responsibilities amongst staff, and a best practices model set up. Social media sites will be banned on all school networks (staff, student, and guest) and all school devices. There is also a requirement for school staff to model behaviour and not use their personal mobile devices in class for non-work reasons.

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