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Province-wide cellphone ban in classrooms finds support at PHS

by Camilla Faragalli
Quebec
Jan. 11, 2024
A new law banning cellphones from the province’s public elementary and secondary school classrooms came into effect last week, as students returned to school following their winter break.
Quebec Education Minister Bernard Drainville first introduced the ban last August, following the publishing of a report from the United Nations in July which found that cellphones in classrooms can have negative effects on students.
Local education leaders are in favour of the ban.
“I very much do feel the ban-policy is necessary,” said Pontiac High School (PHS) Principal Dr. Terry Burns, explaining that with no policy in place, students would have their phones out constantly.
“We have to make sure that that instruction comes first,” he said.
Quebec is Canada’s second province to implement such a ban, following Ontario which passed a similar policy in 2019.
Why it was necessary
The UNESCO report found that cellphones had a negative effect on student focus, socialization and mental health.
“The digital revolution holds immeasurable potential but, just as warnings have been voiced for how it should be regulated in society, similar attention must be paid to the way it is used in education,” said UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay in a statement at the time the report was released.
Lindsay Woodman teaches French at PHS. She said she has witnessed firsthand how distracting phones can be to her students, and how negatively they can affect their social and emotional well-being.
“A number of students are very much addicted to their screen. “Being able to limit that [screentime] is helping to reintroduce the idea of actual interactions, face to face, among students and the staff as well,” Woodman said.
“We want to make sure that they [students] are safe, and that they’re able to succeed academically as well as socially, emotionally.”
Some students also recognize the need to limit screentime in the classroom.
Holly Smith is in grade 11 at PHS, and the student council Vice Chair.
“If I’m trying to work on something and I’m being texted by other people, I can’t focus at all. I have to do a shutdown,” Smith said, adding that she has witnessed classmates use their phones for entire periods, posting on social media.

“It’s not necessary for us to have our cellphones in class. It’s a time for learning,” she said.
Amy-Lynn Moffitt, another PHS student and student council chairperson, agreed that the protocol is necessary.
“We’re kind of unanimous about that at student council, especially with the increasing usage of Chat GPT and AI, which can really help you with your assignments,” she said, “It [the ban] prevents cheating.”
Woodman pointed out that the ban will also greatly limit the opportunities for bullying and cyberbullying during school hours.
“It’s high school, and as we all know, it [bullying] occurs. Sometimes it happens, and people don’t even know,” she said, giving the example of students taking photos of unsuspecting classmates, adding captions or turning them into memes, and sharing them with others via social media like Snapchat or TikTok.
“That affects the mental well being of the students,” Woodman said.
“Students are [now] able to focus on learning, on taking care of themselves, as opposed to worrying about whatever peer pressure is happening.”
“I fully endorse this policy,” she added.
Implementation
While Quebec’s new law means students are not able to access their phones for personal reasons during class time, it is up to individual schools to determine specific protocols and implementation of the ban, as well as exceptions.
According to Woodman, the school’s existing cellphone policy prior to the ban meant there was little change for students with its implementation this semester.
“I have been at PHS for seven years, and we’ve had a policy like this in place for almost all of those years. It’s just an everyday routine for us,” she said.
PHS’s policy allows teachers to permit cellphone use in class if for instructional purposes, including calculation, translation, research and online quizzes.
Woodman explained that every classroom at PHS is equipped with “pocket holders” capable of storing 35 phones, situated either behind or near the teacher’s desk.
When students enter the classroom, they simply put their phone in its assigned slot of the pocket holder for the duration of the class.
“It’s nice for organizational purposes, it also makes it nice for safety reasons. We know that the phone is right there, and if somebody took somebody else’s phone by mistake,” Woodman said.
“The government gave us a lot of latitude to really restrict cellphone usage,” Dr. Burns said.
“We actually feel that we have given them [students] a very balanced approach to cellphone use. We actually are probably on the more liberal side of what could have happened.”
According to Dr. Burns, some students who “really love their cellphones” have challenged the policy. “Just like their adult-community friends … they want to grab their phones and connect to information and people,” he said.
But he said that most students have complied with the new rules, and he feels parents have supported the policy.
“The students understand that some of their friends would not have an easy time without some sort of policy. They understand the need for it.”