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Pennsylvania Senate passes bill encouraging school districts to ban students’ phone use during day

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania’s Senate on Wednesday approved a bill to encourage school districts to start a pilot program that effectively bans students’ use of cellphones during the school day in an effort to improve their mental health and academic performance.

The bill, which passed 45-5, would authorize grants to school districts to buy locking bags after the district creates a policy requiring students to leave their phones in such bags for the whole school day. It now goes to the state House for consideration.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican state Sen. Ryan Aument of Lancaster, said he hopes that limits on phone use will result in improvements in students’ mental health and academic performance.

“Kids spend so much time on social media and using their smartphones that it’s taking a toll on them mentally, emotionally and academically. Smartphone restrictions have proved successful in reversing these trends,” Aument said.

Under the bill, the policy must provide exemptions for students who have a documented medical condition that requires them to use a cellphone. Participating school districts must track changes over two school years in student mental health, bullying, violence and academic performance.

Grants would be awarded by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, and separate legislation would be required to set grant amounts and devote money to the purpose.

Most schools already have rules regulating student phone use. But a growing number of state officials have begun endorsing school cellphone bans, and such legislation is emerging in other states.

Last year, Florida became the first state to crack down, passing a law requiring public schools to ban student cellphone use during class time and block access to social media on district Wi-Fi networks. Some districts went further and banned phones for the entire school day.

California allows school districts to limit or ban the use of smartphones by students while at school, and the Los Angeles Unified School District board voted last month for the district to develop such a policy.

The Pennsylvania bill’s passage in the state Senate comes two weeks after U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called on Congress to require warning labels on social media platforms and their effects on young people.