New plan to limit cellphone use, ban vaping in all Ontario schools

Click to play video: 'Ontario cracking down on cell phone usage, vaping at school'
Ontario cracking down on cell phone usage, vaping at school
WATCH: Canada's biggest province, Ontario, is cracking down on cell phones in class and making changes to the rules when it comes to vaping. The province says it's plan includes some of the strongest measures in this country to "protect the "mental and physical health" of children and to curb distraction at school, but some advocates say the plan itself is a distraction from more pressing issues. Kayla McLean reports – Apr 28, 2024

The Ford government announced it is introducing new limits on cellphone use in schools and banning vaping devices in a move to reduce distractions in classrooms and improve the health of children.

During an announcement Sunday morning, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the province is implementing a back-to-basics plan that will be implemented in the fall and includes some of the strongest measures in the country relating to restrictions on cellphone use and banning vaping in schools.

“We have heard loud and clear from parents and teachers alike that cellphones in classrooms are distracting kids from learning,” said Lecce.

“Our government is introducing the toughest policy in Canada to tackle this issue by cracking down on cellphone usage during class time, as well as banning vaping in all schools. When it comes to cellphones, our policy is ‘out of sight and out of mind,’ as we get students back to the basics by restoring focus, safety and common sense back in Ontario schools.”
Click to play video: '‘Teachers want kids to pay attention,’ Ford says as Ontario limits cell phone use in schools'
‘Teachers want kids to pay attention,’ Ford says as Ontario limits cell phone use in schools

As part of the new plan, kids in kindergarten to Grade 6 will be required to keep phones on silent and out of sight for the entire school day unless they get explicit permission from an educator. Meanwhile, those in grades 7 and up will see cellphone use banned during class time.

The new policy will also require all publicly funded school boards to block access to all social media platforms on school networks and devices, a move the government says is the first of its kind among Canadian provinces.

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The province said teachers will undergo mandatory training as part of these changes. Report cards will now include comments on students’ distraction levels in class.

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Vaping devices will also be banned from schools and school-related settings, along with cannabis, nicotine and tobacco products, Lecce said.

If caught vaping, students will be required to surrender their devices and parents will be notified immediately.

The government noted that $30 million in the 2024 Budget will go toward installing vape detectors and other security upgrades in schools.

To support these initiatives, the government also announced $17.5 million funding to bolster mental health supports to connect students and families with mental health services.

Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said removing vaping products from schools will help protect students from these “preventable threats.”

“Ontario is seeing a growing number of youth in Grades 7 through 12 report using vaping products that contain and emit many toxic substances,” said Moore.

“These products can affect the respiratory, immune and cardiovascular systems, and nicotine in these products is particularly harmful to youth brain development.”

The changes reflect some of the demands made by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) in its most recent round of bargaining with the province.

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The group, which represents over 80,000 education workers in the province, suggested the changes as a way to address increasing violence and disruption in schools, the federation said in a statement issued Sunday.

However, the union said its disappointed that the Ford government didn’t review the policy changes with the union prior to Sunday’s announcement.

“During recent central bargaining between ETFO and the government, ETFO fought for improvements that would address increasing violence and disruption in schools – a key priority for our 83,000 members,” the union said.

The union said that despite its attempts to make improvements to school environments “in a collaborative way” with the provincial government, ETFO was not given the opportunity to review the revisions before the Ford government released them.

“This is extremely disappointing,” the union said.

ETFO says it will reserve judgement on the new policies until it has seen the full range of changes in detail.

The Ford government’s changes come after four of Ontario’s largest school boards announced plans last month to sue the parent companies of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok.

The schoolboards allege the social media platforms are disrupting student learning, contributing to a mental health crisis and leaving educators to manage the fallout.

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The Toronto District School Board, the Peel District School Board, the Toronto Catholic District School Board and the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board filed four separate but similar cases in Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice in late March.

The lawsuits claim the social media platforms are designed for compulsive use and have rewired the way children think, behave and learn.

With files from the Canadian Press.

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