Students sound off about the cellphone ban at L.A. schools

Helen Ho, a rising junior at Narbonne High, in front of the LAUSD board room entrance.
(Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning. It’s Thursday, June 20. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

LAUSD approves cellphone ban, but students demand to be heard on it

Will I be allowed to bring my phone to school? Will it be somehow locked up? Can my access to social media platforms really be blocked? How will I reach my parents?

These are the questions L.A. public school students want to know after the Los Angeles school board approved a cellphone ban this week that will take effect in January 2025. The details of the policy will be worked out in the coming months, but students will be prohibited from using their phones during school hours, including lunch and breaks.

Board member Nick Melvoin spearheaded the resolution to improve learning and student mental health because “our students are glued to their cellphones,” he said.


As the policy is being drafted, the district will seek input from students, parents, staff and unions. They will have to work out how to approach different age groups and various technologies like smart watches.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has weighed into the issue and said he supports pending legislation that would require school districts to limit or prohibit student use of cellphones. His support came a day after U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called on Congress to require warning labels on online platforms because social media has become potentially damaging among young people.

Some teachers and administrators support the ban, while others say enforcement could be difficult. And some parents say they want their children to have cellphones in case of an emergency.

The one thing students agree on is that their voices need to be heard.

‘Had to get off of it’

Neel Thakkar, a rising senior at Reseda High, is receptive to the ban. He said he struggled to focus on studying for Advanced Placement exams because he was “addicted to Instagram” and couldn’t “stop picking up [his] phone ... even for two seconds.”

But the 16-year-old knew this had to stop if he wanted to pass his exams. He deleted the app from his phone because “I knew that I was addicted,” he said.


“It was very hard at first,” Thakkar said.

He also saw how difficult it has been for teachers to enforce a cellphone policy. The ban, he said, will help teachers “because there’s a larger body saying this is something we need to do.”

Rising senior Neel Thakkar addresses LAUSD board, as they consider to pass a resolution detailing a phone-free school day.
Rising senior Neel Thakkar speaks during public comments to the LAUSD board members as they consider a vote on a resolution to create phone-free school days across the district.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

In comments to the Board of Education, Thakkar acknowledged student pushback.

“Students are not only able to say, this isn’t really working, this isn’t really effective,” he told The Times. “They’re also able to say, here are special cases. Here’s a niche set of students [such as students with special education requirements] that do need their phones, and this is why this policy is actually harming them.”

“It’s going to be a very hard transition,” he said. But students should “try to get on board with it because all our lives will be drastically improved.”

‘Very furious’

Helen Ho is a rising junior at Narbonne High in Harbor City, where she uses her phone for educational purposes, such as applying to programs or accessing information from fliers that often provide only QR codes, for which “you can’t use your laptop.”


She said she is “very furious.” Students use their phones for emergency situations and to communicate with their families, she said.

“Having a phone is just having stability … you’re less prone to feeling anxious,” the 16-year-old said. “It’s a source of comfort knowing that you can reach your parents.”

Her phone has also been “a pivotal tool,” she said, helping her connect with her friends, access resources and meet like-minded people from across the world. “Social media does cultivate a lot of growth,” she said.

But, she said, she has seen how it can “deter the image [students] perceive” about themselves, especially if they receive negative comments or are cyberbullied, which is “something that you can’t control.”

“You can seek out resources for that,” like online counselors, platforms, organizations, hubs and professionals who can help you get the right resources, or therapists and friends who “you have as your support mechanism,” she said.

As a student leader with Students Deserve, an advocacy group that calls for eliminating the school police, and a member of ACLU Southern California’s Youth Liberty Squad, Ho is confident that she will take action in her own school to raise awareness about the policy.


The school board should “allow students to give more input,” she said, because policies like this “significantly impact” them and can also disproportionately affect schools that have high numbers of students from communities of color.

“There’s a lot of repercussions with phone policies, but I know students can use [phones] for the betterment of themselves.”

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(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

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