‘We need to be bold’: Ontario to limit cellphone usage, ban vaping in schools

The province is working to remove distractions from classroom as part of its back-to-basics plan. However, as Afua Baah reports, there are doubts about how educators can enforce these new measures.

The Ford government is limiting cell phone use in schools and banning vaping starting in the 2024-25 school year.

Education minister Stephen Lecce announced the new measures at a morning news conference Sunday, touting them as necessary steps to improve safety in schools and help students focus in class.

“Every parent and teacher we speak to has shared the growing problem of cellphone distractions in class during instructional time, in addition to the disturbing rise of vaping in schools amongst our youth,” he said.

“We need to be bold. We need to be comprehensive. And we need to act with urgency today.”

Starting the next school year, students in kindergarten to Grade 6 will be required to keep phones on silent and out of sight for the entire school day unless explicitly permitted by an educator, while students in Grades 7 to 12 will see cellphones banned during class time.

“If they do not comply, they will be asked to surrender their phones, or they could be sent to the office,” Lecce said. “There are progressive discipline policies listed in this. It can include up to suspension if there are repeat violations.”

Further, social media websites will be removed from all school networks and devices, and report cards will include comments on students’ distraction levels in class.

Quebec and British Columbia have already made similar moves to ban cellphone use in class, but Lecce said Ontario will be the first to block access to all social media platforms on school networks and devices.

Lecce appears on Breakfast Television to discuss plan

The education minister sat down with Breakfast Television on Monday to share his thoughts on the province’s plan. Lecce said the government is setting a higher standard and being more ambitious and comprehensive to tackle these issues head-on.

“The objective here is through hearts and minds and through public education we can persuade young people to understand responsible use of technology,” Lecce said on Breakfast Television.

School staff will decide when the use of technology is appropriate, and Lecce said he would “have the backs” of the teachers, principals, and superintendents who would enforce the new government policy.

“For the first time I am saying to school boards and teachers and principals, the government will support you in enforcing this.”

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation’s president said Sunday that the group remains skeptical about whether a blanket ban will improve matters.

“I’m not really sure how this is going to change anything going forward,” said Karen Littlewood.

“Teachers are hesitant to take away students’ phones because they would be responsible if the devices are lost, damaged or stolen,” she said.

“It leads to so many issues and so many problems.”

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

The group suggested the changes as a way to address increasing violence and disruption in schools, the federation said in a statement issued Sunday.

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

Both the Toronto District School Board and Toronto Catholic District School Board have been looking at implementing their own rules around the use of cell phones in schools.

The TDSB banned cell phones in 2007 but reversed the decision in 2011 over concerns about equity because some students couldn’t afford laptops and needed their phones to access the internet.

At a meeting in February, the TDSB said the ambiguity over a cellphone policy had led to problematic usage by students to the detriment of their educations and mental health. They were looking at a policy that aims to strike a better balance between the educational use of phones and enabling students to stay focused in class.

Last month, the TDSB and TCDSB joined the Peel District School Board and Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and launched a joint $4.5 billion lawsuit against social media giants TikTok, Meta Inc. and Snapchat for “disrupting student learning and the education system.”

They claim the influence of social media on today’s youth at school has led to pervasive problems such as distraction, social withdrawal, cyberbullying, and mental health challenges and that the fallout is causing massive strains on the school boards’ finite resources.


On top of limiting cell phone use, the province will also be banning vaping in schools alongside all tobacco, nicotine and cannabis products.

Students will be required to surrender vapes, along with parents or guardians being notified of the situation.

Lecce said higher rates of vaping among youth are “deeply concerning” and unacceptable.

Thirty per cent of Canadian youth aged 15 to 19 had tried vaping as of 2022, the most recent Health Canada data shows. That’s compared to just 14.7 per cent of people over the age of 25.

The Ontario government announced last month that more security cameras and vape detectors will be installed in schools. In the most recent budget, the province earmarked $30 million in funding for school safety.

Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said in the statement that the vaping ban in schools will help protect students from “preventable threats.”

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

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

The government also says it investing $17.5 million in “new wrap-around supports for student mental health and parent engagement.”

The budget includes $15 million to provide support for students at risk of addictive behaviours and $1 million to partner with School Mental Health Ontario to develop webinars and resources targeted to parents and students across the province to learn how to talk about the adverse effects of vaping and excessive cellphone usage.

$1.5 million will be allocated to to Parent Involvement Committees and students to run local prevention campaigns to help deter vaping and cellphone distractions

Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report

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