New Laws for California Schools: AB 272, student smartphone use

CSBA’s “New Laws for California Schools” series highlights new K-12 education laws signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019. New laws are effective Jan. 1, 2020, unless otherwise noted. The 2019 legislative year ends on Sept. 13; Gov. Newsom then has until Oct. 13 to sign or veto all bills passed by the Legislature. CSBA’s ‘What’s New for 2020’ report will be available in October.

Assembly Bill 272 (Muratsuchi, D-Torrance), signed into law by Gov. Newsom on July 1, allows (but does not require) a school board to adopt a policy to limit the use of smartphones by students while they are at school.

The bill declares that there is growing evidence that unrestricted use of smartphones by students during the school day interferes with the educational mission of schools; lowers pupil performance, particularly among low-achieving pupils; promotes cyberbullying; and contributes to an increase in teenage anxiety, depression and suicide.

AB 272, which adds section 48901.7 to the Education Code, states that governing boards may adopt a policy to limit or prohibit the use of smartphones by students while they are at school, but the law does not require boards to take any action.

Notably, the law also includes language barring schools from prohibiting students from possessing or using smartphones in the following circumstances:

  • In the case of an emergency.
  • In response to a perceived threat or danger.
  • When a teacher or administrator grants permission to a student to possess or use a smartphone.
  • When a doctor determines a smartphone is necessary for the health or well-being of a student.
  • When possession or use of the smartphone is required in a student’s Individualized Education Program.

Many districts and county offices already have policies in place addressing student use of cell phones. CSBA’s Sample Board Policy 5131 contains optional language prohibiting student use of  phones while in class, subject to certain exceptions. CSBA will be updating policies in October to reflect the addition of Education Code section 48901.7.

With most districts already having policies addressing cell phone use on campus in place, and the new law’s numerous written exceptions, the effect of AB 272 is likely to be muted.