New York City to lift ban on student cellphones in schools

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Michelle Charlesworth spoke with some of the city's students about why they need their phones. (WABC)

Cell phones have been banned in New York City public schools for eight years, but that has all changed with an official announcement Wednesday.

Thanks to Mayor Bill de Blasio making good on a campaign promise, the ban is lifted and more than a million students will be allowed to carry their phones to class.

De Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina say the change will better enable parents to stay in touch with their children, especially before and after school, and will end the inequity under the current ban, which was enforced mostly at schools with metal detectors in low-income communities.

Whether you consider cell phones in schools to be a terrible distraction for students or a modern necessity, they are now be receiving the welcome mat.

And that's a positive change, according to the parents' union that has been pushing for this.

"We are glad the mayor has embraced the perspective of parents, one that we have been championing for years," New York City Parents Union president Mona Davids said. "As parents, we will feel more comfortable knowing we can keep in contact with our children while they are commuting to school. Moreover, we are glad this unfair policy will be abolished, since it primarily disenfranchised students in communities of color."

The mayor, the father of a current public high school student, had argued for cell phones in schools.

"Parents should be able to call or text their kids," de Blasio said. "That's something Chirlane and I felt ourselves when Chiara took the subway to high school in another borough each day, and we know it's a sentiment parents across this city share. Lifting the ban respects families, and it will end the unequal enforcement that has penalized students at so many high-needs schools. We are giving educators the tools and the flexibility to make this change responsibly."

However, not everyone is applauding.

A lucrative cash industry had blossomed outside of school vans that hold phones for a $1 a day. Now, their services will no longer be needed.

"Lifting the ban will relieve many parents of the additional financial burden of placing these devices with outside cell phone storage truck vendors," said Sam Pirozzolo, vice president of the New York City Parents Union and member of the Community Education Council 31.

The details will be worked out on a school-by-school basis, with principals holding the authority to decide if phones need to be kept inside backpacks or if students can actually use them during the lunch hour.

The reform lifts the ban, and, if approved by the Panel for Educational Policy in February, will take effect in all schools on March 2.

The new changes would remove cell phones and electronic communication devices from the list of banned items in schools, and create a new regulation, A-413, that specifically governs their use in school. Under the new regulation, principals will consult with School Leadership Teams in deciding among a range of options for their schools, depending on what they feel best meets the needs of their students, families and educators. In the coming weeks, schools will receive guidance on how to create an appropriate use policy. Among the options are:

--Store mobile devices in backpacks or a designated location during the school day
--Allow mobile devices to be used during lunch or in designated areas only
--Allow mobile devices for instructional purposes in some or all classrooms

For schools that do not develop a written cell phone policy promptly, the default will be a policy that allows students to bring cell phones into the building, but requires that the school or students store the phones out of sight for the duration of the school day. All cell phone policies must prohibit the use of cell phones during examinations, as well as during internal emergency preparedness drills and exercises, and be consistent with the DOE's Discipline Code. Schools will have a range of options for discipline in cases where cell phones are misused, including confiscation.

"This new policy recognizes that, in this day and age, technology is very much a part of students' and families' everyday lives," said Xhenete Shepard, principal of High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology. "Our time is better spent not fighting technology, but rather helping students recognize how to use technology productively and responsibly. This is a common-sense reform, and I look forward to the positive impact it will have on my students and school."


The proposed changes to the Chancellor's Regulations must be approved by the Panel for Educational Policy. These changes will be voted on at the Panel's February 25 meeting.

Related Topics:
educationcellphonenew york citynew york city schoolsMayor Bill de Blasiobill de blasioeducationNew York City
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