Overly Harsh Student Phone Restrictions? What Is Actually Legal?


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Last Updated on August 20, 2021 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995

Everyone knows that schools can control disruption on campuses, and this includes disruption from students using their phones. What can schools limit and how can students gain additional access to their cell phones (called smartphones in state law)?

smartphone use in school is controlled by schools
Students access to phones can be
restricted by schools

Phone Restrictions At Discretion of School

The California legislature left it up to schools what to do about cell phones at school, and as such, allowed cell phone use can vary greatly on campuses. Some schools may allow phones only during lunch, and others may allow cell phones in the classroom during study time. It depends.

The applicable state law is Education Code section 48901.7 which provides this school discretion over cell phones:

(a) The governing body of a school district, a county office of education, or a charter school may adopt a policy to limit or prohibit the use by its pupils of smartphones while the pupils are at a schoolsite or while the pupils are under the supervision and control of an employee or employees of that school district, county office of education, or charter school.

Times When Student Cell Phones Use Cannot Be Prohibited

Regardless of the school, there are times when students must be allowed to possess their phone, including, per section 48901.7(b):

(1) In the case of an emergency, or in response to a perceived threat of danger.

(2) When a teacher or administrator of the school district, county office of education, or charter school grants permission to a pupil to possess or use a smartphone, subject to any reasonable limitation imposed by that teacher or administrator.

Smartphone use can be punished
Cell phone use can be punished, but the type of student discipline can be limited depending on the student’s grade level

(3) When a licensed physician and surgeon determines that the possession or use of a smartphone is necessary for the health or well-being of the pupil.

(4) When the possession or use of a smartphone is required in a pupil’s individualized education program.

Additional Cell Phone Use Needed?

As outlined in Education Code 48901.7(b) , there are ways a student may have additional access to their phone at school.

If a student requires a cell phone per their special education program (IEP: Individualized Education Program), access to the device can be written into the student’s IEP document.

Additionally, if a doctor decides a cell phone is medically required, as in the case of a student with Diabetes, who may need it to monitor blood sugar levels, a student may have additional access.

Student Discipline Based on Cell Phone Use

There are multiple discipline codes that can involve cell phones, but if discipline is strictly for breaking the cell phone use rules, likely the breach would be for “disruption” or “defiance.” In both public and charter schools, students cannot be suspended through eighth grade for disruption or defiance, and cannot be expelled in any case for such breaches.


Student expulsion lawyer Michelle Ball helps students with all levels of student discipline from detention to suspension to expulsion appeals and ensuring punishment is legal. As a Sacramento student attorney Michelle may assist throughout California from Folsom to Weed to Elk Grove the Bay Area, Palm Springs and beyond.