Ontario’s cellphone ban in schools has been met with mixed reaction, with some teachers concerned about constant policing of kids and experts applauding the change as necessary for student learning.

For Joanna Johnson, a teacher at a private high school in Toronto, the new policy gives the pretense the government is taking action on distracted learning without making much of a difference within the classroom.

“Kids will find a way to be distracted if you give them the space to do so,” Johnson told CTV News Toronto, noting there was a time a handwritten note would be sent to someone on the opposite side of the classroom.

“It’s all nuance and I guess that’s my big problem with a lot of political decisions and big statements of black-and-white policy, because there’s nothing about inside the classroom that is black and white, that doesn’t have nuance.”

Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced Sunday the province will be cracking down on cellphone use in classrooms, banning it for students Grade 6 and under while restricting it to out-of-class time for those in Grades 7 to 12. They may use their devices with permission from the instructor or if they need it for educational or medical reasons.

Social media networks will also be banned on school networks and devices.

If a student breaks the rules, staff should confiscate the phones and notify the parent or guardian. Following that, further action such as suspension could be taken.

The province has said this will empower teachers, who they say have argued that cellphones are a distraction in class.

“When it comes to cellphones, our policy is ‘out of sight and out of mind,’ as we get students back to the basics by restoring focus, safety and common sense back in Ontario schools,” Lecce told reporters over the weekend.

Following the announcement, Johnson took to social media herself, posting a video mocking the policy. That video has garnered more than 76,000 views.

Speaking with CTV News Toronto, Johnson, who has been a teacher for over 20 years, acknowledged she is privileged to teach a smaller group of kids and can’t imagine the management it would take to enforce a cellphone ban on a classroom of 30 students.

“That kind of classroom management masterclass. It has to be on the next level,” she said. “That's not education. It will be 70 per cent classroom management.”

“Thirty 14-year-olds in a room, there’s a different vibe in the air. Bless them. I love them all. But they’re going to go a little crazy, and nobody’s addressing that because that’s the money cost. This doesn't cost any money, but it gives the illusion that something's happening in education.”

Karen Littlewood, President of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, expressed similar sentiments on Sunday, arguing that while she welcomes supports for mental health, bullying and harassment, she doesn’t see how the ban will solve problems plaguing the education system.

‘Out of sight out of mind’

Sam Andrew, managing director of think tank The Dias at Toronto Metropolitan University, said the policy was a “positive move.”

“I think it's overdue,” he told CTV News Toronto. “The nature of the algorithms encourage you to sort of keep scrolling.”

“Increasingly there's compelling evidence that these devices in classrooms are a net negative for student learning and wellbeing.”

It can take up to 20 minutes from reading a message or being on social media to refocus on learning, Andrew noted, adding the out-of-sight and out-of-mind tagline the government is using to describe this policy stands up to the research.

“I think also some compelling evidence that even the device being physically proximate but not looking at it, is a distraction. It keeps your brain capacity kind of focused on it.”

He noted the policy may not be popular among all students or parents, so having clear rules that empower teachers to take action is key.

Changes to the code of conduct will ensure the process for breaking the rules is clear to everyone, Andrey says.

The Women’s Brain Health Initiative also applauded the change, saying that while social media can be a helpful toll, too much screen time or “bad influences” can harm brain development.

"We must take this opportunity to educate teachers, parents, and children on ways in which they can mitigate the risk of overusing technology and why it is harmful to their mental health."

However David Mastin, First VP of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, says that instead of denying access the province should focus on teaching students how to properly use social media.

“They need to properly learn how to use their devices. They need to make sure that they don't use their devices to engage in cyber bullying,” he told CTV News Toronto Monday.

Johnson agrees, noting that there are various reasons why a student may need to use their phone during class time. It can be for learning purposes, to give their minds a break, or to alleviate anxiety.

“There's lot of things kids have always depended on to remove themselves from social situations when they don't feel good. The answer has never been force them into the social situation,” Johnson said.

She also said that kids are reading, fact checking, and learning on their phones, and that should be taken into consideration as well.

“Whenever anyone says back to basics, it's code for the delusional statement that when we were kids, everything was better. Which is absolutely a lie,” Johnson said.

“Don't pretend as though when I went to school, everybody was focused on the chemistry teacher. It's just silly.”

She did, however, agree that cellphones should be used with the permission of the instructor and that boundaries need to be established as to when they are allowed and when they are not.