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Updated rules in place this school year place more restrictions on when Montgomery County Public Schools students can use their cell phones and other electronic devices during the day.

The updated rules say students may not use their phones or other devices, like smartwatches, during the school day, except under specific circumstances, according to MCPS officials. The devices are required to be turned off and in students’ lockers during the day and can only be used on school property before and after school.

The exceptions to the rules include use by students with individualized education plans or with other special needs that can be supported by using their devices and when teachers allow students to their phones to support certain lessons. The updated rules also allow middle and high school principals to decide whether students can use their phones during lunch. High school principals also can allow their use between classes.

The updated guidelines also now apply to other devices that aren’t cell phones, such as tablets, smart watches and laptops not issued by MCPS.

Lisa Cline, a member of the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Association’s Safe Technology Subcommittee, said she has been pushing for the updates since 2016, when her son was a second grader and she heard that the policy may be updated to allow elementary school students to bring phones to school and use them while on the bus.

She said she was worried the students would have unsupervised time on their phones, specifically if they got on the internet or played inappropriate games. She advocated to MCPS to update the rules, and the district convened a work group to review the policy, which resulted in this year’s changes.

“Teachers have been through the wringer; asked to do so much more than teach and support students,” Cline said in an email to Bethesda Beat. “They shouldn’t have to compete for students’ attention in the classroom.”

Carolina Ruiz, an eighth grade student at A. Mario Loiederman Middle School in Silver Spring, said she thinks the new rules are “both reasonable and unreasonable.”

She said she understands that students may have become more reliant on their phones during the COVID-19 pandemic and while taking virtual classes — and that an inability to focus on schoolwork because they’re playing on their phones could be problematic long-term.

But she doesn’t understand why students can’t use their phones more during the day when they are not in classes because “we’re not being taught during these times so I don’t think it would affect our grades.”

She said she also likes to keep in touch with her parents, who sometimes reach out to ask how she plans to get home from school or see how her day is going.

“When I don’t respond they sometimes get worried,” she said.

Representatives of the county teachers union, the Montgomery County Education Association, did not respond to requests for comment this week.