Volume 76, Number 2 | May 31 - June 6 2006

Editorial

Mayor isn’t connecting in phone debate

The discussion over students and cell phones in our public schools has generated no shortage of strong feelings on both sides. Many parents and students say it’s the students’ right to have the phones and that, what’s more, students having their phones is important to their safety and to allow them to keep in touch with their parents regarding pickups and drop-offs.

It is quite apparent — and more and more so each day — that cell phones, not to mention other handheld personal electronic devices, have become part and parcel of the lives of most of us. Whether we like it or not, cell phones are already widely used on public buses, and may soon be in subways, as well.

Besides their mere ubiquity, cell phones are seen as essential in the aftermath of 9/11. Fears of terrorism and potential disaster make parents feel they need to have that link to their children open at all times. 

On the other hand, some might feel that parents are being overprotective, not to mention the fact that generations of students got by quite all right without cell phones — so why do we need them in schools now? Yet Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, in their flat-out refusal to brook any compromise on the issue have provoked a firestorm of controversy. There has been talk of civil-rights lawsuits being filed to protect students’ rights to have their cell phones with them at all times.

State Senator Tom Duane is backing another possible solution — disabling students’ phones inside schools with a jamming signal. Yet, there are questions about how effective this strategy would be and how it would work.

The bottom line is that students should face consequences if they use cell phones in school during class. They should face having their phones confiscated and even other penalties if appropriate.

There’s no question that using cell phones in class is disruptive. Teachers, who already must be disciplinarians and contend with so much else in the classroom, don’t need the added responsibility of being cell phone monitors.

Those who oppose the use of the phones in schools say that parents can contact their children and vice a versa through the school’s office or school’s secretary. Some parents claim, though, this is not always effective.

Clearly, this issue isn’t going to go away anytime soon. Cell phones have become practically an appendage to many of us, and this seems to be the case even more with our youth, similar to the way in which children are so much more connected to computers and the Internet than previous generations. These are simply facts of life in today’s world.

The mayor and chancellor have taken an inflexible position on this issue, when it would appear that something else is needed. There are different ways to cut out disruptive communication without denying parents and children access to each other.  It’s time to think more outside the box.

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