Ban Lifted On Cellphones In NYC Schools

New York City public school students will soon be able to tote cellphones into their schools, with certain restrictions. Previously there had been a ban on student cellphones in the schools of the Five Boroughs, although in many buildings this was not well enforced. In many cases it had been a case of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and students carried their mobile phones on them. Mayor Bill de Blasio made the formal announcement at Brooklyn’s High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology on the afternoon of Wednesday, January 7. The ban will be lifted as of March 6. Previously Mayor Michael Bloomberg had instituted this ban.

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A group called the New York City Parents Union had urged an end to this ban, for safety reasons.? There was also a perception that this penalized certain schools with largely minority populations, that had metal scanners at the student entrances.

The issue is controversial for many reasons, with voices for and against the lifting of this phone ban. Among the reasons offered in favor of the ban are: parental and guardian contact in case of disasters, as well as the more mundane issue of students getting in contact with parents about when and where to be picked up after school. Students have mostly been in favor of lifting the ban because they want easy access to use their mobile devices, and because at some schools they have had to check their phones with outside vendors (neighborhood stores or vans parked outside the schools) and often paid a daily fee to do so. In a few schools teachers have allowed students to use cellphones in class, as an instructional practice.

Most of the anti-phone use reasons have been expressed by teachers and administrators. Students pay attention to their phones and not to their lessons; students use their phones to cheat (in various ways) on exams; students can take inappropriate photos and distribute them (fights, locker room and bathroom scenes, copies of exams); phones ringing and pinging disrupt teaching; and more.

There is some fine print to contend with, and principals will make the ultimate decisions on how cellphone use and carrying will be implemented at their schools. The majority of schools will have policies regarding test time, for example, and cellphones (as well as beepers and other devices) are prohibited during New York State Regent Exam sessions in January, June and August.

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I worked at one large Brooklyn high school where cellphones were banned unless a student had special permission. Most kids checked their phones at a van parked outside for a dollar a day, and griped about it. This school, relatively safe when I taught there, did have scanning and students even had to remove their belts before being scanned. A friend of mine who is a guidance counselor there has told me she is unhappy about the end of the ban, because she thinks students are already addicted to their phones.

I also taught at two smaller high schools which allowed students to bring in phones, and at one in northern Brooklyn, it could be chaotic in the classroom. Some students would take and make phone calls during lessons! I would tell them to stop and they would ignore me; they ignored other teachers as well as the administration.

At the other small school we had a scandal on our hands when during New York State Regent Exam week (standardized course final exam week), a female student was caught in the bathroom, surfing the Web for answers during one of the History exams. She had been using her phone and another student ratted her out.

Another unfortunate problem has been thefts or loss of student phones, especially those that are more desirable. Each of my daughters knows at least one student whose phone was stolen or lost. One of my daughters told me about a classmate who had her phone ruined when another kid spilled a liquid on it, in the cafeteria.

Cellphones in schools, a topic with which earlier generations did not contend, in New York City or elsewhere!

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Ellen Levitt is the author of The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn (2009), The Lost Synagogues of the Bronx and Queens (2011) and The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan (2013), all published by Avotaynu. She is a lifelong New Yorker, a veteran public school teacher, writer and photographer. Bird lover as well.