Rocky View Schools has shared a letter penned to parents on behalf of the province's Minister of Education, Demetrios Nicolaides, regarding the recent announcement on cellphone and social media use policy in schools.

In the letter, Nicolaides states that last week, the government introduced new restrictions on the use of cell phones and access to social media in schools.

"Beginning this fall, we will no longer permit the use of personal mobile devices in classrooms or access to social media sites on school networks. In recent months and years, Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia have all done the same. Alberta’s new standards were developed following months of consultation with those most impacted, including students, parents, and teachers."

He underlined that feedback was clear and that more than 90 per cent of 68,000 survey respondents said they are concerned about cellphone use in schools.

"In addition to our stakeholder engagement, my department reviewed recent research and statistics regarding the impact of mobile devices and social media use in classrooms and found reports of increased distraction, instances of inappropriate usage, negative impacts on learning and mental health, and an increase in cyberbullying."

The letter cites a 2023 UNESCO report on Technology in Education, saying that it can take up to 20 minutes for a student to refocus on learning after checking their phone, which in turn impacts recall and comprehension.  

"A 2023 Statistics Canada report found that one in every four Canadian teens has experienced cyberbullying, ranging from online or text message threats to hurtful information posted about them online, to being excluded from virtual communities."

While another Statistics Canada study reported mental wellness rates dropped from 77.9 per cent in 2015 to 62.3 per cent in 2021 in young Canadians between 12 and 17.

"The new restrictions announced June 17 will answer the call for a standard approach to how schools navigate these policies in Alberta, while still affording those authorities the autonomy and flexibility needed to implement policies that best meet the needs of their students and communities."

The Minister added that while schools must make exceptions for health or medical reasons, or learning needs, these restrictions are decisive and clear.

"This fall, students will return to class, but their devices will not. By doing this, we’re prioritizing learning and protecting student mental health.  Your school authority will communicate the specific details of their personal mobile device and social media policy in the coming months."

The information will include whether access to personal mobile devices is being limited during class or whether the school will be going further and not allowing them to be used during the school day.

"School authority policies will also outline where and how mobile devices will be stored during class time, how to apply for an exemption if your child has health or medical needs that require the use of a mobile device during class time, and the consequences for violations of the policy."

Those who have specific questions regarding their school’s specific policy are asked to contact the school authority, as 'they will be best positioned to speak to how these restrictions will be implemented at the local level.'

The new standards on personal mobile devices will establish restrictions, enforcement procedures and exceptions for Alberta’s K-12 public, separate, francophone, public charter, independent school authorities and early childhood services operators. The rules will encompass cell phones, smartwatches, headphones, and other personal electronic devices. 

Previously, The Alberta Teachers Association president, Jason Schilling, also commended the province's announcement.

"The ATA is pleased to see that the government’s direction reflects ATA policy in keeping students focused on their learning while balancing situations when technology can be used to meet medical and learning needs or outcomes. Teachers and school leaders look forward to having the support of government and school boards as they implement this new policy."

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