De Blasio Lifts Ban on Cellphones in NYC Public Schools

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Soon, kids in New York City schools will be permitted to bring cellphones and other mobile devices to class in a significant reversal from current restrictions on cellphones and other electronic devices like tablets from the school grounds.

Until now, students had to leave them at home or at businesses outside the building, for which they were often charged. The new rules are that teachers and parents will work with each school’s principal to come up with a plan tailored to the needs of the students, parents, and classroom instructors.

Kerry Burke and Ben Chapman, writing for the Daily News, report that Mayor Bill de Blasio said the change will allow parents to contact their children, especially in the case of emergencies. De Blasio added that the plan would also end the inequity of the current ban, which is most strictly enforced at schools with metal detectors in low-income neighborhoods.

“Parents should be able to call or text their kids — that’s what this comes down to,” said de Blasio. “It’s something Chirlane and I felt ourselves when Chiara took the subway to high school in another borough each day.”

The plan includes several specifics: school leaders may set policies for electronics with help from teachers and parents; schools that do not set up plans will allow students to bring phones to school, but must keep them stored during the school day; cellphones may be used for instructional purposes. Students will be allowed to use mobile phones during lunch or in designated areas. Cyberbullying and responsible digital citizenship education and training will be increased. In September, Mayor de Blasio said:

“I think it is, for parents, very, very important to know how to reach their kids, and we have to come up with a universal way to make sure that that opportunity is there for our young people.”

During the Michael Bloomberg administration, parents protested the ban because of random scanning of students with metal detectors, which were in place to detect weapons, but resulted in the confiscation of hundreds of cellphones, according to Vincent Barone of Staten Island Advance. Many students had ignored the ban, say Leslie Brody and Sonja Sharp of The Wall Street Journal.  Some teachers were tolerant of the rule-breaking as long as the phones were kept out of sight and silent.

“Everybody has their cellphones,” said Anii Hossain, a junior. “You’ll see cellphones getting taken away at least three or four times a day.”

Chancellor Carmen Farina said that students need to understand that the new plan is a privilege and not a right. The students use their devices appropriately — or else.

Some of the reasons principals have not wanted cellphones in school include the risk of theft, cheating, inappropriate photo-taking, and cyberbullying. Administrators have also said that the presence of cellphones in the classroom is a serious distraction.

And, some teachers say that that monitoring the use of cellphones is extremely frustrating. In 2005, when the ban was put into place, police authorities worried that cellphones would make gang members’ coordination easier. Tyler Lopez of Slate writes that the solution to the fear of students using their cellphones inappropriately is a sandwich bag. Simply have students put their cellphones in a sandwich bag, set them to silent, tape or place on the side of the desk, and carry on. Lopez says:

In a city that has experienced everything from terrorist attacks to blackouts, it seems unwise to prevent kids from staying in touch with their families. Allowing them to use those devices responsibly is more than reasonable—it’s essential. And something as low-tech as a humble sandwich baggie can solve this digital dilemma.