Schools face tough call on whether to ban cell phones
More and more students are getting them f or parents' peace of mind, but educators worry about classroom disruptions.
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published October 16, 2006
NEW YORK - Alabama was lifting the cell phone ban for its public schools just as New York City was implementing a crackdown.
Just about every school system in the nation is facing the same conundrum, with little consensus, about how to balance a modern reality against the need to maintain order in the classroom and the hallways.
With more than half the nation's teens carrying them, cell phones have become an appendage that many refuse to leave at home, and which many parents want them to carry for emergencies and peace of mind.
At the same time, teachers and school administrators complain of growing disruptions, from phones going off in class to improper use of text messaging and cell phone cameras.
"Electronic bullying was starting to emerge. They were text messaging threats, sending intimidating messages to each other," said Randy Clegg, superintendent for the Clinton Community School District, an Iowa community about 30 miles from Dubuque and 190 from Chicago. "We're putting sophisticated stuff in the hands of teenagers and you deal with all the typical teenage stuff."
In July, the district adopted a policy where its 4,500 students are allowed to carry a phone, but risk having it confiscated until the end of the day if they use it or it goes off during school. A second infraction requires a meeting with a parent. Since the start of the new term, about three or four phones have been confiscated, said Clegg, estimating that more than three quarters of his system's middle and high school students - and a growing number in elementary school - carry phones.
Wireless companies view school-age children as a key source of growth in a market where the number of first-time users is dwindling.
While many are signed on through family plans that only generate an additional $10 or $20 a month in base charges, kids often ring up extra fees for text messaging, ringtones and video games.
At last count, nearly three-quarters of the nation's population had cell phones. By contrast, 53 percent of Americans aged 12 to 17 have them, says a survey by Simmons Research. That figure, which Simmons extrapolates to roughly 13.1-million teens, is up from 39 percent in late 2004 and 33 percent in 2002, suggesting the trend is accelerating.
"Part of the reality is that they're going to have it," Clegg said. He noted that he too found it comforting when his daughter, now in college, had a cell to call home from extracurricular activities, including long bus trips returning from high school band competitions.
"I don't think it's appropriate in this day and age to do an outright ban," he said. "What are you going to do, check every kid who comes into school? That's not practical."
[Last modified October 15, 2006, 19:51:16]
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