The Case for Removing Cell Phones from the School Bus

Digital Risk on School Buses

The Case for Removing Cell Phones from the School Bus

Another Field Trip with a School Bus Full of Smartphones

Updated March 10, 2021

I remember my seventh grade daughter boarding the school bus for a field trip with her classmates to an amusement park. As they departed, I wondered how many kids had smartphones, and of those, how many had any filters or controls on them. Of course, my mind started spinning.

The Protect Young Eyes team is concerned about the lack of policies that exist related to smartphone use on school buses. Isn’t a school’s transportation system an extension of the classroom? Shouldn’t parents have reasonable assurance that their child won’t see pornography or be exposed to life-altering content on the way home? We believe the answer to both questions is, “Yes!”

Related post: The Five Worst Places for Kids to be Online

“My Child Saw Pornography on the School Bus”

While I was a junior high youth ministry director, moms contacted me with stories of how their son or daughter saw pornography on another child’s device while riding the school bus.

One particular story involved a fifth-grade boy who had an iPhone on the bus. Apparently, it used to be his father’s iPhone, and although the father thought the device was clean, the fifth-grade child discovered links to pornography and proceeded to show many kids on the bus this exciting discovery.

One of the students exposed to the pornography was a young man who lived in my neighborhood. We are family friends, and when his mother found this out (they had a great, open relationship, so this fifth-grade boy felt comfortable telling him mom, which is so critical), she called me just devastated.

When parents ask me, “Chris, what’s the right age to talk to my kids about pornography?” I often tell them, “if you wait until you’re ready, it’s too late.” But, another test I’ve started using is, “does your child ride a school bus?” If the answer is, “yes,” then the child should know the word and know what to do if they hear it or are shown inappropriate, “bad” pictures.

Related post: How to Talk to a 5-year-old About Pornography

The Case for Removing Smartphones from the School Bus

We’ve come up with seven reasons for removing or at least limiting smartphone access on the school bus:

  • School compliance with CIPA could be at risk. The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requires schools to have policies that: (1) prevent access by minors to inappropriate matter on the Internet and World Wide Web, and (2) [implement] measures designed to restrict minors’ access to materials harmful to minors, among other requirements. If the buses are an extension of the classroom (see below), then it would seem that in order to comply with CIPA, rules that already exist in school buildings should extend to their buses. Non-compliance with CIPA can cause non-compliance with federal E-rate requirements and eliminate school funding for federal discounts on internet access, technology hardware, and network maintenance.
  • Buses are an extension of the classroom. School buses are often owned by the school and are therefore considered school property. General rules related to appropriate conduct and creating an environment that is kind and safe for children should be applicable. On the transportation website in my own district it states: “We feel the bus is an extension of the classroom. Learning does not stop when a student walks out of the door of school. Students learn in all areas of life. On the bus we hope they learn to be on time, follow the rules, sharing with and kindness to others and much more.” We believe that the existence of unmonitored, internet-ready devices does not create a kind or safe environment for children.
  • The potential liability risk for the school is increasing. With at least one state now considering resolutions that would make it sexual harassment for a child to show another child pornography, schools will increasingly be caught in the crosshairs, answering questions of “what rules are in place to prevent exposures to inappropriate content?”
  • The adult-to-child ratio on buses encourages inappropriate behavior. This one is pretty clear. Most buses have one adult who should be spending most of his/her time watching the road and not dealing with student misbehavior. This leaves 40 or more students doing whatever they want.
  • Students taking unauthorized photos on buses creates conflict and discomfort. My middle school daughter has expressed this concern to me multiple times where some kids just randomly snap pictures and post them on social media from the bus. This makes her incredibly uncomfortable.
  • The risk of children exposing other children to damaging content is too great. I believe I’ve made this point abundantly clear. But, due to the wide age spread on buses, where 5-year-olds are sometimes in proximity to high school students, the risk of a young person being exposed to overly mature digital content goes up.
  • If an accident occurs, premature phone calls from students to parents can create unnecessary havoc. For example, parents rushing to the scene of a fender bender.

Can you think of any others? If so, please leave them in the comments below.

School Districts That Outlaw Cell Phones on School Buses:

There are school districts who have limited cell phone access on buses per the list below.

Do you agree or disagree with these policies?

Common Objections to No Smartphones on the School Bus

We also realize that due to the nature of kids today and the manner in which many of them have been raised (on devices), asking kids to remain screen free and entertain themselves for 30-60 minutes in a vehicle is not a behavior they’re familiar with. Here are three arguments against limited smartphones on school buses:

  • Drivers can’t possibly enforce this rule. You’re right. But, this is why parents are so important. We believe that all electronic devices used by tweens and teens should have some parental control solution attached to them. Something that allows parents to exert some level of control over how the device is used. Not only do parents need to make it abundantly clear that kids shouldn’t be using the devices on buses, but families are using a service like Forcefield [link to PYE resources], then they can lock the device during this time, other than for emergency purposes.
  • My kid needs to do homework. This is a valid objection, since doing homework now almost always requires students to access Google Classroom. This would be a spot where educators would have to help. If we collectively agree that there is risk to the emotional and relational health of students as a result of unsupervised exposure to digital media on buses, then I don’t think it’s too much to as teachers to provide homework in a format that does not rely on a data signal.
  • My kid will be bored. You’re probably right. And, I hope this is true. Kids have forgotten how to be bored mostly because parents have robbed them of this skill by giving them electronics. Let them be bored! Boredom is the start of imagination. In my own family, we’ve instituted the following rule – “under an hour, turn off the power.” No electronic devices are allowed in vehicles unless it’s a long trip. For short trips it’s reading real books, playing games together (5 dice and an empty box is all you need for Yahtzee!), counting cows, holding your breath while going over bridges, etc. It’s a little more work, but it’s called parenting.

Schools – Your Kids are at Risk – It’s Time to do Something

We invite school districts to analyze the risk, talk to your parents, and act. Look at your transportation policies and see if they support your technology and child safety goals. Parents, if you’re concerned, then speak up! And, let us know what success you might be experiencing in advocating for change so that we can share your story.

What’s my next step?

Start the conversation with school leadership with our downloadable PDF and 6-step process.

Click/tap the image to learn more!
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