Smartphones may soon be banned in NY schools. Students say they will find loopholes.

Momentum is building to ban smartphones in New York schools amid growing alarm about the toxic effects of social media on children, but some students are skeptical that the move would actually work.

In New York City, the local department of education allows individual schools to set phone policies. Some have students store phones in secure bags at the beginning of the school day, while others collect phones as soon as students arrive. However, others only allow students to use phones in the hallways and during lunch.

But in practice, phones are a ubiquitous distraction in many schools, according to parents, students and educators. Teachers said students are distracted by text messages in class, including when their parents text them. Some said students seem to be going to the bathroom during class more than they used to, perhaps to check their phones. Online fights tend to boil over in classrooms and schoolyards because of social media.

In response, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said it’s time to “liberate” students from their smartphones. She is considering banning phones in schools after speaking to students and studying the effect of social media on mental health.

“To think you have to access TikTok and scroll all day when you’re supposed to be learning geometry and chemistry, those are pretty hard subjects anyway,” Hochul said at a press conference with the New York Mental Health Association recently. week. “So let’s let the young be young again [and] focus on school.”

On Monday, Hochul reached a deal with state lawmakers restricting social media companies from using addictive algorithms on underage users.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Schools Chancellor David Banks have spoken positively of banning smartphones from schools. While the city can adopt its own policy, education department officials said they want to see the details of Hochul’s proposal first. She said she will introduce a bill restricting phones in schools this fall.

In interviews with Gothamist, students said they saw the reasoning behind a ban, but they questioned the logistics.

“The thing about high school students, or just kids in general, is they’re always going to find a way to bend the rules that you give them and find loopholes,” said Clementine McCoy, a junior at Grace Church. School in Manhattan. “That’s just a fact of life.”

Catrina Chen, a junior at Brooklyn Tech, said her school prohibits the use of phones during class, though some kids sneak them in anyway.

“If you don’t want to pay attention, that’s not my problem,” she said. “We’re at an age where we have to know what to do.”

Chen said it would make her work in the classroom more difficult if she was not allowed to access her phone, which she uses for online learning platforms and to send questions to classmates. She noted that students can also text or use social media on tablets and laptops. “A lot of things in the classroom are very technology-dependent,” she said.

Soliel Hayles, a senior at Medgar Evers Preparatory School in Brooklyn, said her school’s current policy has resulted in a cat-and-mouse game with educators.

“We used to use a decoy phone — give out a phone but not their actual phone — because people didn’t feel comfortable in an emergency,” Hayles said.

She added that she was worried that the tightening of the rules would create “a lot of friction between the trust of the administration and the students.”

McCoy of Grace Church School said there will always be students who break the rules. “There will always be people hiding in it [bathroom] stalls on their phone, people using their phones hidden in backpacks,” she said. But she said she would support a ban, likening a school day without access to her phone to “a recall” .

Speaking to reporters last week, Chancellor Banks said students he spoke with told him that giving up their smartphones would be painful but worth it. “One of the kids said to me, ‘some students are going to resist, but you have to do it anyway because it’s best for all of us,'” Banks said. “A person who’s on drugs won’t tell you to take them off the drug, but deep down they know they want someone to help them get off.”

Julia Bove, superintendent of the city’s District 22, said at a press conference last week that schools that have added more restrictions on phone use have seen a decrease in violence.

Anna Waters, assistant principal at Highbridge Green School in the Bronx, said students at her high school already have to put their phones in sealed bags during the school day. But she said she hoped a ban would discourage parents from buying smartphones for their children in the first place. She noted that many of the beefs that erupt at school start on social media.

At the same time, Waters said, phones have eroded students’ interpersonal skills and capacity to manage conflict. “I think smartphones and access to social media [for] children have been the number one biggest factor, even bigger than COVID, that has affected overall emotional well-being,” she said.

And Julie Scelfo, founder and executive director of the group MAMA, or Mothers Against Media Addiction, applauded Hochul’s proposal to restrict smartphones in schools.

“Social workers have seen kids binge-watching Netflix in the middle of class,” she said. “Kids shop online. They are watching porn. And now, unfortunately, with [artificial intelligence] programs … we are seeing cases where children are circulating sexually explicit images.”

“So the way we can best support our teachers and educators is by removing smart devices from school so that children can use school hours to learn and interact with their peers,” Scelfo added.

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