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Alberta to ban cellphones in K-12 classrooms starting in fall

CALGARY — Alberta is moving to ban cellphones in kindergarten to Grade 12 classrooms starting in the fall.
Alberta Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides says the province is moving to ban cellphones in kindergarten to Grade 12 classrooms starting in the fall. Nicolaides is sworn into cabinet, in Edmonton, Friday, June 9, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.

CALGARY — Alberta is moving to ban cellphones in kindergarten to Grade 12 classrooms starting in the fall.

Alberta Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said Monday that cellphones help with learning but can also be a distraction and lead to cyberbullying.

He said there will be exceptions for students who use phones for health needs, such as monitoring blood sugar levels, or for specialized learning.

Otherwise, personal devices must be turned off and stored out of sight during class time. School internet networks will also have to limit access to social media, Nicolaides said.

Alberta has previously allowed school boards to set a patchwork of cellphone rules amid mounting concern from teachers and parents that the devices were disrupting learning.

"The risks to students' mental well-being and academic success are real, and we must take steps now to combat these effects," Nicolaides said.

Alberta follows the lead of Quebec, Ontario and B.C., where governments have announced or implemented cellphone restrictions in schools.

The Alberta government said it surveyed more than 68,000 parents, teachers, students and principals about cellphone use in schools. About 90 per cent said they were concerned and urged it be limited.

How the new rules are implemented and enforced will be up to school boards, Nicolaides said, but those policies will need to fall in line with minimum provincial standards.

"Parents and guardians should stay tuned to their local school authority over the coming months for more details," he said.

In May, members of the Alberta Teachers' Association voted in support of restricting smartphones in classrooms during instructional time.

President Jason Schilling said in a statement posted to social media the association is encouraged by this first step but cautioned there’s work to be done.

"There are still many lingering questions as to how this new ministerial order will be set up, and how teachers and school leaders will be supported when it's rolled out this fall," said Schilling.

Two overarching provincial organizations welcomed the change.

“Standards for mobile device use during instructional time which acknowledge exceptions and school authority autonomy will ensure a focus on learning,” Kerry Bodell, president of the Alberta School Councils' Association, said in a statement.

Andrea Holowka, president of the College of Alberta School Superintendents, said, “Respecting the flexibility of school authorities to meet the unique learning needs of students within a regulatory framework is practical and greatly appreciated.”

Opposition NDP education critic Amanda Chapman said they are cautiously optimistic the change will balance learning with access to technology.

"What we have not seen from the government today is a commitment that students will learn about digital literacy," Chapman said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 17, 2024.

Lisa Johnson, The Canadian Press