A New York City Council bill to relax the cell phone ban in New York City public schools took effect on Wednesday, January 2.
The bill allows students to carry their cell phones to and from school. Passed on July 25, 2007, the bill was vetoed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but the City Council overrode the veto.
According to the Department of Education (DOE) Chancellor Regulation A-412, “Cell phones, ipods, beepers and other communication devices are prohibited on school property.” This policy has been in place since 1988 and remains in effect.
The new bill would allow students to bring cell phones to school, but, since the bill does not cover DOE in-school regulations, would not effectively change the ban.
Parents from across the city have opposed the ban on cell phones, saying the cell phones allow them to keep in contact with their children and help in the case of an emergency. Last school year, public school parents, including members of the Stuyvesant Parents’ Association (PA), brought a lawsuit against the city in an attempt to overturn the ban. The State Supreme Court upheld the policy in May 2007.
The parents appealed the decision and returned to court on Wednesday, February 6, where they presented their oral argument. According to a PA e-mail asking members to show their support at court, the “lawsuit challenges the prohibition on students being able to bring cell phones into their schools in order to allow them to have the phones before and after school (not during).”
If the parents win, students would officially be able to have cell phones in school, but not necessarily use them.
“We want our kids to be able to contact us during emergencies [...] and we believe that the cell phones are a necessity to do that,” PA Co-President Leo Lee said. “Not allowing the cell phones to be brought into the school is too stringent.”
At the appellate court, the parents argued that they, and not the DOE, have the right to make these types of decisions. “Although the five-judge panel lobbed some hostile questions at our lawyers, in the end they seemed to “get it”: that banning cell phones outright is not about educational policy,” Bilofsky wrote on a Web site for New York City public school parents. “For the DOE, it’s about control and convenience, while for parents it’s a safety issue and the right to promote our kids’ well-being.”
Opponents of the cell phone ban see the City Council bill as a possible opening for further change.
“When you couldn’t bring your phone, if that’s the policy, that’s the policy. Case is closed. Once you start trying to split hairs, it becomes an impossible policy to either maintain or to enforce,” Principal Stanley Teitel said.
Others, however, doubt the bill would change anything, as it would not significantly change current policies and since many students ignore the ban anyway.
“It won’t actually have an effect on anything. All students carry cell phones with them and will continue to do so,” sophomore Daniel Fleishman said.
At Stuyvesant, the administration has little ability to prevent students from bringing cell phones into the building. Instead, if students are seen with cell phones inside the building, teachers are allowed to confiscate them.
The bill states, “No person shall interfere with such right [to carry a cell phone to and from school],” which could be interpreted by some to mean that schools must provide some way for students to store their cell phones if they are not allowed to take them inside.
One idea was to put small, coin-operated lockers outside schools. A trial that was supposed to take place in September 2007 was postponed for at least a year, according to The New York Post.
Teitel doubted the practicality of such a plan. “Where are you going to put 3,100 lockers? Are you going to crowd up the whole bridge?” Teitel said. “Who’s going to watch them all day so nobody goes along and breaks into all of them and steals all your cell phones?”