Skip to main content
Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

School cell phone bans are spreading. Is Michigan next?

a teacher holding a blue bin and kids putting their cellphones in there
Cell phones are collected by a teacher at Tomlinson Middle School in Inkster, which bans phones during class. (Courtesy photo)
  • Michigan educators consider cell phone bans as more students bring phones into classrooms
  • Some schools that have already banned cell phones report fewer distractions and more social interactions
  • Parents worry bans would make it impossible to reach children in emergencies

Tired of the classroom distraction caused by cell phones, an eighth-grade teacher at Tomlinson Middle School in Inkster decided to tally the beeps and buzzes emanating from desks, pockets and backpacks during a single class two years ago. 

In 55 minutes, the teacher recorded 30 cellular interruptions.

By the fall, the school — which is part of the Westwood Community School District had implemented a classroom cell phone ban. The result, according to Tomlinson Principal Kristen Kajoian: higher rates of completed assignments, and longer attention spans.


Even beyond the classroom, there was a positive impact, Kajoian told Bridge Michigan. 

“What I saw was a noisy lunchroom, which I loved, because it meant my kids were talking,” she said. “It was because there were no phones in the lunchroom.”


School cell phone bans are spreading across the country. Several states have implemented bans, and more are considering them. 

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles school board banned students from using cell phones and social media during the school day, while California Gov. Gavin Newsom called for a statewide ban.

While there is currently no bill in the Legislature to implement a statewide ban in Michigan, some individual schools and districts are experimenting with the policy, hoping to improve academics and curb rising levels of anxiety and depression tied to social media.

More Instagram, less learning

A growing body of research suggests cell phones have a negative impact on school learning.

A study by Central Michigan University surveyed more than 600 students between seventh and 12th grade and found learning increased with a decrease in smartphone use,including at school and during homework. 

A separate study found that students who did not have cell phones in a classroom had higher levels of course comprehension, lower levels of anxiety and higher levels of mindfulness than those with cell phones.

In May, Ohio joined Indiana and Florida as the only states to ban cell phones in classrooms. New York is considering a similar ban, as is Oklahoma.

In Michigan, then-state Rep. Gary Eisen, R-St. Clair Township, sponsored a 2022 bill that would have required districts to prohibit cell phone use during the school day. The proposal died in committee, however.

No cell phone ban bill has been introduced this legislative session, and the idea isn’t popular among some Michigan legislators who have worked as teachers.

State Rep. Matt Koleszar, D-Plymouth, a former teacher, said he “would be uncomfortable with a state mandate on (cell phone bans in classrooms) as no two communities are the same.” 

Koleszar emphasized support for local control and allowing teachers to make their own decisions regarding cell phone use policy. 

Rep. Brad Paquette, R-Niles, told Bridge that when he was a teacher at Niles New Tech Entrepreneurial Academy, there was a district-wide cell phone ban, and when students violated policy, they were given detention, which was different from the district’s typical discipline policy. 

Paquette said the policy “disrupted our culture in that it obviously created a very negative environment where kids were very angry.”

Paquette called a potential statewide ban “one of the worst ideas that we could come up with as legislators.” He emphasized that allowing schools and districts to make their own decisions regarding cell phone policy is important because “this is a cultural learning issue where kids are gonna have to learn how to deal with these distractors at some point in their life.”

Long-time ban in Mackinaw City

Mackinaw City High School has had a zero tolerance policy for phone use for more than a decade, where it was quickly accepted as the norm. 

Lisa Rivera, a teacher at the school, recalls a dinner on a field trip to the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. As the senior class advisor, she banned cell phones aside from allowing students to take pictures. The students thanked her for “allowing them to live in the moment,” she said. 

Rivera’s cell phone-free classroom is no stranger to technology. The district has a one-to-one ratio of chromebook devices to students. 

“Is it possible that this ban is limiting some kids from communicating with friends outside of school, that type of thing?” Rivera asked. “I mean, limit them — possibly, but academically? No, I think we have that covered with the devices that we provide.”

Pulling out a phone in a class would feel “out of the ordinary” to Mackinaw City sophomore Wesley House, who has never known a time when he could use his cell phone in school. 

He said he only heard of students using phones in school when “they were caught for it and got their phone taken away, and had complained about it.”

Schools with cell phone bans like that at Mackinaw City go old school for needed messages between parents and their children — via a land-line phone in the office or classroom. Students are required to contact parents “through the office or to get special permission to get their phone.” 

Rivera said teachers “typically don't have too many violations.”

“The ironic thing is … (when) your phone (goes) off in the classroom … a lot of times, it's a parent reaching out to the child,” she said. 

‘Always on your phone’

There’s no data collected statewide about cell phone policies in Michigan schools, said Wendy Zdeb, Executive Director of Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals. 

“From my experience visiting schools, they are all over the place on cell phone policies, ranging from very strict — cell phones can only be in lockers to cell phone pouches or collection spots in classrooms — and other places where phones can be used in all common areas and teacher discretion in the classroom,” Zdeb said.

Michael Kauffman, an eighth grader at Forsythe Middle School, an Ann Arbor public school without a cell phone ban, thinks a ban might be effective, but it’d be “impossible” for students to adhere to, and even harder for faculty to enforce. 

Leyla Lopez, a rising junior at Melvindale High School, where there is not a cell phone policy, said cell phones have impacted her school’s environment because without a cell phone, you “get to talk more.”

“You get to hang out with (friends) and get to know each other more,” Lopez said. “It's different when you use your phone at school because you're always on your phone.”

In some classrooms, students who forget chromebooks or chargers can log onto their phones to engage with the classroom. However, this advantage can be “a slippery slope,” according to Brad MacDonald, a teacher at Melvindale High School.

In other cases of emergency, students have roles that extend beyond being a student. 

“If there's an emergency, (especially) with our socio economic demographic, a lot of times kids are translating for their parents, kids that have jobs, or kind of adult responsibilities,” MacDonald said.

Some parents worry that, with a cell phone ban, they’d be unable to reach their children if there were an emergency at the school. In the past six months, the U.S. has seen 166 school shootings so far, according to the K-12 Violence Project. In 2023, there were 346 school shootings.

Nicole Kessler, president of the Alliance for Safe Schools, said parents are worried that in moments like these, a cell phone ban will keep them from reaching their children. 


At Tomlinson Middle School in Inkster, cell phones are collected by the teacher at the beginning of each class, and students pick them up before heading to their next class. They’re allowed to use their phones between classes.

It’s a tough balancing act, between schools doing what they can to improve learning, and bowing to the ubiquitous nature of cell phones in modern life.

Even in schools without a cell phone policy, individual teachers can create their own policies. 

“Each year, they say they're gonna, like, tighten up: they see it, they're gonna take it. It all depends on the teacher,” said Kauffman, the Ann Arbor student. “I don't use my phone in two of my classes with teachers (because) if they see it, they would normally take it.”

How impactful was this article for you?

Only donate if we've informed you about important Michigan issues

See what new members are saying about why they donated to Bridge Michigan:

  • “In order for this information to be accurate and unbiased it must be underwritten by its readers, not by special interests.” - Larry S.
  • “Not many other media sources report on the topics Bridge does.” - Susan B.
  • “Your journalism is outstanding and rare these days.” - Mark S.

If you want to ensure the future of nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan journalism, please become a member today. You, too, will be asked why you donated and maybe we'll feature your quote next time!

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Pay with PayPal Donate Now