Pinellas, Pasco school boards unanimously approve updated phone policies

There are new rules in Pinellas and Pasco counties for when it’s okay for students to use their phones in schools. Both school boards unanimously approved updates to their cell phone policies on Tuesday. 

Under the new rules in Pasco County, students in pre-K through eighth grade have to keep their phones on silent and put away, unless a teacher gives them permission for something classwork related.

High schoolers must have their phones on silent and put away except during lunch, or if a teacher gives the ok for a class activity. These rules also apply to extracurricular activities before and after the school day for all grades.

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Pinellas County School Board Chair Laura Hine said the biggest update to its policy is that it will be consistent across all 128 schools in the district. 

"Being able to get them off and put them away, we think will make a big difference in our classrooms," Hine said. "Also, there is the learning element, and then there's also the human connection element. We need our students and teachers and people to be talking to one another, interacting."

"Technology can do amazing things. It can help us learn and do incredible things, but we also can see that it's a major distraction," Hine said.

Under Pinellas’ new policy, phones have to be off and put away in elementary school until the end of the school day. In middle school, phones have to be off and away, but are allowed before and after school. 

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In high school in Pinellas, phones must be off or silenced and put away. Students can use them at lunchtime, while changing classes and before and after school, though.

"If the administrator, a teacher, has to spend so much time on enforcement, does that also then take away, and that's one of the reasons why, at the high school level, we have actually left it to be allowed a bit during the day. There are times when a high school student needs to be able to use their phone. Some of them pick up their younger siblings from school. They have jobs after school. It’s a different level of responsibility," Hine said.

Hine said she hopes the policies encourage others to take a step back from their phones outside the classroom too.

"As a mom, I want those phones put away. There is no doubt about it," she said. "We as a community have got to do something altogether and change a number of the habits because we all know that technology is impacting our youth."

Both Pasco and Pinellas’ policies go into effect next school year. 

Pinellas County is also starting a digital citizenship curriculum this fall. The classes will inform students on the best ways to move through the use of technology and give them tools on how to do that. 


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