Sanders Invites Arkansas School Districts to Join Phone-Free School, Mental Health Pilot Program

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders today joined Arkansas Secretary of Education Jacob Oliva to invite all Arkansas school districts to join her administration’s mental health pilot program in a letter to district superintendents. The program will address the symptoms of youth mental illness as well as one of its largest causes: screen addiction and social media. 

“The Natural State is not unique; youth depression, anxiety, and isolation have risen across the country. But we do have a unique opportunity to address this crisis in a collaborative way,” they wrote. “We are excited to announce a pilot program focused on two key priorities: restricting in-school phone use and mental healthcare.”

“The average American teen now spends nearly 5 hours a day on social media, usually on their phone, often in school,” they continued. “This pilot grant program will provide pouches for students to safely store their phones during the school day, creating a better learning environment and inviting in-person socialization

The pilot program will give funding to all secondary schools that apply to provide pouches for students to safely store their phones during the school day, reducing screen addiction and social media use. The grant program will also provide funding for telehealth mental health services, which is especially important in areas of Arkansas with a shortage of mental health professionals. Additionally, it will provide support in locating mental health providers, connecting students, families, and school employees to mental and behavioral healthcare, substance abuse care, and social services, and navigating insurance matters.

The Governor and Secretary met with several Arkansas superintendents to discuss student mental health and social media use last month, and this pilot program builds off the recommendations those school leaders offered.

The Governor has prioritized improving student mental health and reducing screen addiction in her administration. She led Arkansas to pass one of the first laws in the nation requiring minors to receive parental permission before signing up for a social media account. In May, she sent a copy of Jonathan Haidt’s The Anxious Generation to all state and territorial governors in America and all legislators in Arkansas, expressing support for four main goals: no smartphones before high school, no social media before 16, phone-free schools, and more outdoor play and childhood independence.

A copy of the Governor and Secretary’s full letter is linked here.