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California Gov. Newsom pushes for statewide smartphone restrictions in schools

Parents voice concerns over Newsom's push to restrict smartphone usage in California schools
Parents voice concerns over Newsom's push to restrict smartphone usage in California schools 02:46

SACRAMENTO — On the same day that California's largest school district voted to ban smartphone usage during school hours, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he wants to apply the same restrictions in schools across the state.

Newsom cited the mental health risks of social media on children in his announcement Tuesday, which was first reported by Politico.

The announcement comes a day after U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called on Congress to require warning labels on social media platforms and their effects on young people. Newsom said he plans to build on a law he signed in 2019 that authorized school districts to limit or ban the use of smartphones by students while at school or under the supervision of a school employee.

"As the Surgeon General affirmed, social media is harming the mental health of our youth," Newsom said in a statement. "I look forward to working with the Legislature to restrict the use of smartphones during the school day. When children and teens are in school, they should be focused on their studies — not their screens."

Newsom's office did not provide further details on the proposal, but the California School Boards Association said any regulations over student smartphone use should be left up to school districts, not the state.

"We support legislation which empowers school leaders to make policy decisions at a local level that reflect their community's concerns and what's necessary to support their students," spokesperson Troy Flint said.

Newsom's announcement comes amid growing debate across the country over how to address the impacts of social media and smartphone usage, particularly on young people. Some teens have pledged to stay off social media to improve their mental health and to help them focus on schoolwork and extracurricular activities.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year signed one of the most restrictive bans in the nation on children's use of social media. The New York state Legislature passed a bill earlier this month that would allow parents to block their kids from getting social media posts suggested to them by the platform's algorithm.

In California, a proposal to fine social media platforms for addicting children has failed to become law in recent years. But a bill by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Democrat representing Berkeley, that would ban online platforms from providing addictive feeds to minors passed the state Senate in May and is set for a committee hearing in the Assembly next month.

"Studies show that once a young person has a social media addiction, they experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. But social media companies have been unwilling to voluntarily change their practices," Skinner said in a statement on May 21, 2024.  

The Los Angeles Unified School District board voted Tuesday to ban students' use of cell phones throughout the school day, CBS Los Angeles reported. LAUSD is the largest district in the nation that has voted to enforce such a ban.

"The phone-free school policy says from the moment students walk into class to the end of the day, they shouldn't have their phones," LAUSD board member Nick Melvoin told CBS Los Angeles. "Let's have kids interact with one another, free from the distractions that we know are harming mental health, their academics."

As CBS LA reports, the vote doesn't automatically mean the ban will be implemented as staff is still consulting with stakeholders and experts before specifics are set in stone. That LAUSD policy would go into effect next year.

State Sen. Henry Stern, a Democrat representing part of the Los Angeles area, introduced a bill this year to expand school districts' authority to limit students' social media usage at schools. Stern said he'd be willing to pull his bill, which already passed the Senate, if lawmakers and Newsom can come up with a better solution. Stern said he texted Newsom to thank him after the governor's announcement.

"It's just too hard for every teacher, every school, or every parent to have to figure this out on their own," Stern said. "There's some times where government just has to step in and make some bigger rules of the road."

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