Law Office of Michelle Ball 48901.7,charter school,discipline,IEP,medical,parents rights,phones,school district,Special Education Overly Harsh Student Smartphone Restrictions? What Is Actually Legal?

Overly Harsh Student Smartphone Restrictions? What Is Actually Legal?


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Last Updated on May 24, 2021 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

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

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

Smartphone 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 smartphones only during lunch, and others may allow smartphones 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 smartphone, 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
Smartphone 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 Smartphone Use Needed?

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