Husted in Lima to discuss school cell phone bans

LIMA — As area educators met with Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted on Thursday, there was a general consensus in the room that the newly signed legislation calling on schools to create policies to limit or ban cell phone use by students is a good thing.

The question now is how best to do that.

Husted, along with Ohio Department of Education and Workforce director Steve Dackin, travelled to the Johnny Appleseed Metro Park District office. They’ve traveled throughout the state to meet with school district superintendents to hear how different districts approached this issue. Their hope is that this information will help the department create sample cell phone restriction guidelines that draw from successful policies already being implemented.

“We’re pushing the smartphone bans in schools because they improve academic performance and reduce disciplinary issues and cyberbullying,” Husted said. “Those who have implemented smartphone bans are seeing better results in their schools, and there are many schools who are saying, ‘Hey, since so many people are doing this, what should we do?’ We are developing a model policy that they can use as a template going forward.”

One district that was represented at the meeting and has a ban currently in effect is Ottawa-Glandorf. High school principal Ann Ellerbrock described to the group how that ban was put together back in 2019 and is enforced, and she noted her district has seen positive results from it.

“Edutopia has a really nice, five-minute little blurb that we use on all of our freshman orientations and sophomore orientations when we bring them back to school to help promote the whys: the cheating, the cyberbullying,” she said. “I’m going to call it ‘authentic conversation’ that happens at lunch. We don’t let them have them then. ‘What are you doing tonight? You going to the football game?’ Rather than texting back and forth, authentic conversations are happening in the cafeteria.”

Elida Superintendent Joel Mengerink spoke about how the high school implemented a ban in early March in the wake of a physical altercation that was filmed at the school, a ban that was reinforced by the school board shortly afterward.

“I know we’ve got to go through and adjust the policy, and we have made some alterations for kids with special needs and medical conditions and things that are not actually in our policy,” he said. “But it’s been great. We’ve not had issues with social media and bullying, fights, you name it. Everything’s better, even interruptions in school.”

Dackin said he hopes the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce will be able to draft some possible policy templates sometime in the next 10 days.