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    Governor sends message to public-school students' cell phones: I'm blocking you!

    By Bill Atkinson, Petersburg Progress-Index,

    2 days ago

    RICHMOND – Gov. Glenn Youngkin wants all public-school systems across the state to develop cell phone-free classrooms by the beginning of the next school year.

    On Tuesday, the governor issued Executive Order 33 directing state education and health officials to mandate phone-free education policies in schools by Jan. 1. Prior to that deadline, Youngkin asked the state health and education departments to engage parental and community feedback in establishing the policies, and that includes looking at places like Petersburg and Hopewell where students must keep their phones in pouches that can only be locked and unlocked by school personnel.

    In the order, Youngkin said it was time to “heed the call of parents, public health professionals, educators and other stakeholders” to curb the time children spend using mobile devices for calls, messaging and social media. Behavior experts have tied the increase in depression cases and suicides among young people to high internet usage, and the governor cited that as the main reason for his directive.

    In studies mentioned in the order, children are spending an average of 4.8 hours a day on social media. That, Youngkin said, is almost two hours more than the average three hours that doubles the risk of mental-health issues in adolescents.

    “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 a statement accompanying the order. “It also kicks off the robust conversations among parents, students, teachers, and school and community leaders necessary to design and implement these policies and procedures at the local level.”

    What does the order say?

    Youngkin’s order directs the following:

    • The state Education and Health departments gather feedback from parents, educators and health officials, and gather data on best practices used in some Virginia school divisions
    • Develop a clear and detailed definition of “cell phone-free education” based on that feedback;
    • Publish implementation plans to offer options for divisions to develop their policies, and draft them by Aug. 15;
    • Gather feedback from the divisions by Sept. 16; and
    • Issue directives for local division policies to be enacted by Jan. 1, 2025.

    School divisions are given leeway in the order to develop age-appropriate policies for cell phones.

    “Creating a cell phone-free education environment in public schools is not only a prudent measure but an essential one to promote a healthier and more focused educational environment where every child is free to learn,” the order read.

    Earlier this year, the state Senate passed legislation to allow local school boards to implement cell phone policies, but the House of Delegates declined to take action.

    Hopewell City Schools began using the cell-phone pouch system in 2022. Petersburg launched its restrictions earlier this year. A similar program is also in Richmond.

    The full text of Executive Order 33 can be found here.

    Bill Atkinson (he/him/his) is an award-winning journalist who covers breaking news, government and politics. Reach him at or on X (formerly known as Twitter) at @BAtkinson_PI.

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