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Letters to the Editor: Former teachers say it’s time to ban smartphones at school

Teenagers socialize while on their phones.
The Los Angeles Unified board considered a resolution to ban smartphones during the school day. Above, teenagers socialize while on their phones.
(Nicolas Tucat / AFP / Getty Images)
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To the editor: I’m a retired Los Angeles Unified School District teacher and administrator, and I fully support banning smartphones during the school day. I suggest there’s an even more important reason to do this than those mentioned: Kids scroll and swipe on their phones instead of read books.

In 1984, a National Assessment of Education Progress survey found that 35% of 13-year-olds read for pleasure almost daily. In 2020, the last year reported, that number had dropped to 17%. Is there any doubt that the percentage is even lower today?

The journal Psychological Medicine published a study in 2023 revealing that kids who read for pleasure “scored higher on tests of skills like memory and speech development; had fewer behavioral problems and depression symptoms, and showed an edge in certain measures of brain structure,” as reported by U.S. News & World Report.

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Other research has found that reading books for pleasure contributes not just to higher test scores, but it also increases empathy, critical thinking and self-esteem and reduces loneliness (ironic, as reading a book is an alternative to “social” media).

Schools need to be brave and take the bold but necessary steps to ban smartphones.

Kirk Jordan, Long Beach

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To the editor: Smartphones were just coming into vogue when I retired from teaching.

Naive as I was about such things, it never occurred to me that students could not only communicate by text during class, but could send text messages during tests. On one occasion I actually caught a student in the back corner of the class quietly talking to her mother while I was teaching.

As teachers and administrators, we tried to think of ways to eliminate cellphone use. In junior high and high school, students would actually argue with you in front of the class if you tried to take away their phones.

I am a bit surprised to be reading that some districts are still facing the issues I did years ago. Also, the same arguments, particularly about student safety, are used to justify the continued use of phones.

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With new evidence that eliminating cellphone use leads to better academic performance and less bullying, I hope for the teachers’ sake as well as that of the students that districts can solve this pesky problem.

Lynn Lorenz, Newport Beach

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To the editor: I taught high school in LAUSD for 38 years, before smartphones.

Students never needed to call parents during school hours. In a real emergency, they could go to the office. A parent could contact the school if they needed to reach a student.

Students and parents need to make prior plans about pick-up times and other events, as they did in the past. For more than 100 years, students in L.A. did not have phones, and today should be no different.

Ban phones on campus.

Janet Cupples, Sherman Oaks

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To the editor: Ever since cellphones were allowed in schools, kids have become more distracted from learning, and there has been more bullying.

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The purpose of school is not only to learn the curriculum, but also to learn about social norms toward fellow humans. What kids learn from social media in many cases is trolling or belittling their fellow students.

There is no need for cellphones in schools other than emergency circumstances. They don’t need to be banned, but stored within the classroom at the beginning of each class and retrieved afterward, and the rules on use need to be stricter.

Harry Schwarz, Agoura Hills

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