While the Ontario government is touting a new “out of sight, out of mind” cell phone policy at schools provincewide, Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) says it has had rules in place governing their use for some time.

Education minister Stephen Lecce sent a letter to parents and guardians with children in the public school system April 29, stipulating cell phones be banned from in-class use between kindergarten and Grade 6, and heavily discouraged for students in Grades 7 to 12.

“To help reduce distractions in our schools, starting this September, we are denying cell phone usage during instructional time so that students can focus on getting back to basics and learning foundational skills like reading, writing, and math,” Lecce said.

Younger students are being told to keep phones on silent and out of sight during school time, while those in Grades 7 to 12 are still allowed to use their phones on school property but will have to gain special permission from a teacher for use in the classroom.

Carolynne Bull, TLDSB director of communications, told The Highlander TLDSB has had a similar policy in place for several years, through its student code of conduct.

Lecce said the province is also removing social media access from all school networks and devices “to help strengthen in-person relationships, communication, and socialemotional skills.”

Moving forward, he noted report cards would also include comments on students’ distraction levels in class.

The ministry is also updating its rules on vaping in schools, with a new zero tolerance policy coming into effect.

“Parents will be immediately informed and vapes will be given up and disposed of,” Lecce said. “There are immediate consequences for students caught in possession of illegal substances.”

Lecce said the province is paying for schools to install vape detectors to help combat “an alarming rise” in youth vaping. The province is also investing in wraparound supports for students looking to stop vaping.

The education minister said information on these new policies should start at home.

“To truly change behaviour, we are asking for your support and collaboration to hold conversations at home about the new expectations,” Lecce said.

Bull noted TLDSB will be updating its policies to reflect the changes in the near future.

“The revisions are intended to help foster positive school climates that support the achievement and wellbeing of students in Ontario. This is aligned with the goals outlined in our strategic plan, so any initiative to further our goals is welcomed,” Bull said.