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Indiana bans cellphones in class


School officials in Indiana are looking forward to class without the buzz of cellphones next school year. A new law that received bipartisan support from state lawmakers will keep students off their phones during school hours. Kirsten Adair from Indiana Public Broadcasting reports from Bloomington.

KIRSTEN ADAIR, BYLINE: The law says schools must adopt a policy that bans students from using wireless communication devices during class time. That includes cellphones, tablets, laptops and gaming devices. Florida passed a similar law last year, and other states - including Kentucky, Vermont and Kansas - are considering it. Indiana House member Julie McGuire sponsored the bill.


JULIE MCGUIRE: While we cannot control the amount of time students spend on social media outside school hours, we can provide reprieve during the seven hours a day that should be focused on learning.

ADAIR: McGuire says the new law will reduce conflicts around social media, teach students to moderate their cellphone use and emphasize face-to-face communication. And the law does have some exceptions to the ban. Students can use the tech with a teacher's permission or for emergencies to manage their health care, and there are exceptions for students with disabilities. Though it passed with broad support, there were questions about why the state needs to act. State Representative Matt Pierce said he wasn't sure why a law is needed.


MATT PIERCE: Really, we need a bill so a school corporation can have a commonsense policy telling its kids not to use these devices?

ADAIR: It's something districts and students have already been grappling with. Indianapolis schools, for example, already banned phones in class. But at Westfield Washington School District, communications director Joshua Andrews says high school students can have their phones out at lunch in between classes. Middle school students can't use their phones at all during the school day. Some students weren't pleased about the rule, but Andrews says they adjusted.

JOSHUA ANDREWS: When you change something that big, it kind of makes people recoil a little bit, but there's been little to no problems with it since we have rolled it out.

ADAIR: At other districts, the rules are still flexible or vary from grade to grade. The law doesn't take effect until July 1, so districts still have some time to decide what these policies will look like. But it might add up to more work and higher costs for schools.

DAVID BLOOMFIELD: The cellphones have to be removed from their persons, and they have to be stored somewhere away from that individual. That's going to take time. It's going to take expense, and it's going to take enforcement.

ADAIR: David Bloomfield is a professor of education leadership, law and policy at Brooklyn College in the City University of New York Graduate Center. Bloomfield says some schools use technology-blocking software, but that brings up questions about how students could use their cellphones during emergency situations. He says there is also potential for racial disparities, especially since there are no guidelines for enforcing the law.

BLOOMFIELD: It's easy for states to require districts to have policies, but they're really offloading the job to school districts and then, obviously, to schools to enforce those policies.

ADAIR: Bloomfield says it'll take time to see whether the law improves kids' attention or if they just end up finding low-tech forms of distraction, like passing a note in class. For NPR News, I'm Kirsten Adair. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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