Sunday, June 18, 2006



June 14, 2006 -- NEW YORK -- Can you hear me now?

That's what parents, students and lawmakers who want a school cell phone ban lifted asked Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration at a city council hearing Wednesday, but the city is refusing to budge.

One parent said the city's policy wouldn't affect her family's actions.

"My children will continue to carry cell phones," said Carmen Colon. "No one is going to tell me otherwise. I have no choice."

[You go Carmen! Say Dat! - smf]

Three high school students were among those who argued against the ban.

Sophomore Seth Pearce noted wryly during his testimony: "All three of us have cell phones right now in City Hall, and it seems to me the city is running just fine."

Pearce said he takes his cell phone to school every day, despite the ban.

"I need it because we live in a society where there are a lot of emergencies and a lot of situations where students need to be in contact," he said.

The prohibition on cell phones in the nation's biggest school system has been in place for years, but students have mostly carried the phones without consequence.

When the city began random security checks in late April as part of a weapons crackdown, authorities began finding -- and confiscating -- hundreds of cell phones, prompting a fierce battle over the ban.

New York schools have one of the toughest such bans among the nation's large districts, but similar debates have bubbled up in school systems elsewhere.

In New York, parents and students insist the right to carry mobile phones is a matter of safety -- they must be able to get in touch at any hour of the day for emergencies.

They have written letters, staged rallies and repeatedly called the mayor's weekly radio show to demand that he reconsider.

No chance, says the mayor.

Bloomberg, the former chief executive of a financial information company, has a certain obsession with technology and communications -- he and his aides are never without their BlackBerries -- but he has a similar fixation on efficiency and order.

He says cell phones are disruptive in schools, where students can use them to cheat on exams, take inappropriate photos and waste time chatting and text messaging instead of learning.

The City Council took up the dispute even though it is not clear whether it has much say on the matter. While the school system of 1.1 million students is under the mayor's management, it is regulated by the state.

Still, council members have introduced legislation that would guarantee parents the right to provide their children with cell phones to carry to and from school, and prohibit anyone from interfering with that right.

The council appears to have enough votes to override a likely mayoral veto, but the bill's supporters acknowledged that the point of the Wednesday hearing was not necessarily to push the law, but rather to nudge a compromise.

While some lawmakers cried that the mayor had "drawn a line in the sand" and warned they were prepared to "stage a battle" and go to court, others said they are hopeful that all sides could work it out.

"I would like to change this policy with the mayor, not over the mayor," Councilman Lewis Fidler said.

But the Bloomberg administration shows no room for compromise. Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott described the policy as "non-negotiable."


From NY1 News

June 17, 2006 - Despite pleas from parents, students and members of the City Council, the Bloomberg administration says its ban on cell phones in public schools is here to stay.

Two City Council committees held a hearing Wednesday on the Department of Education's cell phone ban in schools.

Under current city policy, students are not allowed to carry cell phones in school.

The Bloomberg administration says it will not support any legislation making it easier for students to bring cell phones to school, but it says it will clarify a rule that lets students with medical conditions carry cell phones.

Bloomberg officials say the ban is necessary, but some members of the City Council say the policy puts students at risk.

"I think our parents and I think our city wants to make sure that while we're in school our kids are focused on learning. That's really what's important. And I think the policy is the right policy," said Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

"Cell phones distract teachers and students and disrupt learning. Despite this some parents want their children to have cell phones. I understand why a parent might want his or her child to have a phone, but that does not out weigh the problem associated with cell phone use or possession on school grounds," said Terence Tolbert of the DOE.

"Society's changed a lot, there's a lot fewer parents at home who are in a position to directly be there with their kids. It's night and day from even 10 years ago," said Brooklyn City Councilman Bill de Blasio. "I totally respect why you don't want to disrupt education, but safety comes first by so great a margin."

The city's ban has been in effect since 1988, but was not strictly enforced until recently. In April, school safety officers began random scanning of students with portable metal detectors. The goal was to find weapons, but cell phones were also confiscated.

NY1’s Michael Scotto filed this report:


“We live in a society where there are a lot of emergencies and a lot of situations where students need to be in a contact with their parents,” Pearce said Wednesday.

But the Bloomberg administration says children need to find another way to stay in touch with their parents. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is standing firm on a controversial rule that prohibits students from bringing cell phones into city schools.

His deputies testified at a City Council hearing Wednesday.

“We're very focused as far as the policy that is in place and not moving away from that policy,” said Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott.

That policy, established in 1988, made headlines in April when unannounced sweeps began, resulting in the confiscation of more than 3,000 cell phones to date.

The City Council has introduced legislation that would allow students to carry cell phones to and from school and place a moratorium on the seizure of the phones.

Administration officials say they are working on clarifying a rule that allows students with medical problems to carry phones. But that's as far as they'll go. They say a more lenient rule won't work, claiming cell phones will always be a problem.

“If they are in there, they will be used and they will disrupt teaching learning,” said the DOE’s Terence Tolbert. “We've seen in it movie theaters, we’ve seen it in planes, we’ve seen it everywhere.”

“If we can't stay in touch with our children, I don't know what is more disempowering and threatening and troubling to parents than loosing touch with our kids,” said City Councilman Bill de Blasio.

With both sides standing firm, this debate is likely to go on for some time. And some council members even hinted that it could end up in court.

1 comment:

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