Utah won’t ban cellphones in classrooms. Here’s why.

Rep. Trevor Lee’s bill, which would have allowed for a legal ban of cellphones and smartwatches in a classroom, was killed by the House Education Committee Wednesday afternoon.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Trevor Lee, R-Layton, talks about HB270 school cellphone amendments, during the House Education Committee meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023.

A bill attempting to ban cellphones and smartwatches in Utah’s classrooms went down in flames on Wednesday after a House committee rejected the proposal.

Freshman Rep. Trevor Lee, R-Layton, made HB270 his signature issue this session, arguing that the devices had become too distracting in schools. The bill would have prevented those devices from classrooms if a teacher determines it was distracting or interfering with classroom instruction.

“When I was in school, we had phones, and if you were disciplined, parents would typically back up the teachers. One of the issues I’m seeing now is a lot of parents are backing up their student when a teacher decides to take away the phone,” Lee told the House Education Committee on Wednesday.

Lee’s first draft of HB270 implemented a near-total statewide ban on phones in classrooms, requiring students to give up their devices until they leave the classroom. The version he unveiled Wednesday allowed teachers to make students give up their devices if they felt they were a distraction.


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Rita Heagren with the American Federation of Teachers Utah called Lee’s bill “unenforceable.”

“This requires teachers in the classrooms to enforce these policies. You want me to try and take a cellphone away from a 220-pound lineman? I don’t think so,” Heagren said.

Curbing mobile devices in classrooms is a policy priority for Gov. Spencer Cox, who has also pushed for a crackdown on social media use by children.

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While they may be aligned on this particular issue, Lee may not be Cox’s first choice to spearhead the effort. After Cox vetoed legislation prohibiting transgender athletes from participating in girls’ sports last year, Lee repeatedly leveled transphobic attacks against the governor by using an anonymous Twitter account and, on a right-wing podcast, suggested Cox was transgender himself.

Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, said she was appreciative of Lee’s work on the bill, but, as a parent, takes responsibility for her children’s cellphone use.

“I feel like this is the heavy hand of government in a way that it’s not meant to be,” Birkeland said, explaining that it wouldn’t be a good precedent to make a law that could not be totally enforced.

When it was clear the bill was in trouble on Wednesday, Rep. Katy Hall, R-Ogden, attempted to hold Lee’s bill to give him more time to work on the details. That motion was rejected. The committee then voted 9-3 to kill the bill this year.

The House Education Committee also held HB82, which requires schools to give parents at least three days’ notice prior to an assembly focused on certain topics, including suicide prevention, substance abuse, sexual abuse and race and inclusion. Rep. Melissa Garff Ballard, R-North Salt Lake, agreed to make some refinements before bringing the legislation back a second time.