Washington legislators are considering launching a pilot program to study how to restrict students most effectively from using cellphones in public schools during classes.
Rep. Stephanie McClintock, R-Vancouver, is sponsoring the bill, HB 2018, which passed through the state’s House Education Committee Tuesday on a 13-2 vote.
Under the bill, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction would create a two-year pilot program to study strategies for stopping students from using their phones. The office would choose from among public schools and school districts that would volunteer to participate. Strategies must include limiting use to specific times, locations or activities or requiring students to leave their phones in a secure place. There may be exceptions for certain instructional purposes or students with special needs. The pilot sites have to restrict the students’ use during instructional hours for at least two years and survey the school community regarding the experience. The Office would analyze those results, research Washington schools’ current procedures and make recommendations to the Legislature. The Washington State School Directors’ Association would develop a model policy based on the Office’s research, and then school districts would follow suit by the 2027-28 school year.
McClintock said in the committee meeting that the study would help determine the best way to put boundaries and guardrails on cell phones for students in school so they have better academic outcomes and mental health.
Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo, said in committee that she opposes the bill. Her school district and others in the state have asked her to let them and their school boards decide their own policies.
“There are some school districts that are doing some pretty innovative and creative things utilizing mobile devices,” she said.
Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, said that he believes that there will be sufficient flexibility for school districts. He added that the best cell phone restriction policy he’s seen is a more personal approach: the educator going over to the student’s desk and dialing “Mom” on the student’s phone.
“That restricts cell phone use,” Pollet said.
According to the fiscal note on the bill, the Office anticipates it would need to add staffing over the next few fiscal years, including a full-time program supervisor and a 0.8 FTE program supervisor in fiscal year 2028 to research the policies and procedures of Washington and other states’ schools and to develop and manage the pilot program. It would also need contract support of $12,000 per year for fiscal years 2025 through 2027 to support the research and surveys.