Sunday, May 11, 2008

The NYC Cell Phone Ban

Anybody who follows news on the NYC schools has heard something about the ban on cell phones over the past few years. For anybody unfamiliar with NYC policy, students are technically banned from bringing cell phones into schools. The ban is, of course, nearly impossible to enforce unless a school has metal detectors -- but it's still district policy and Mayor Bloomberg has been a staunch defender.

The ban seems to have mostly received negative press (Alexander Russo calling it "idiotic-sounding" is what jogged my memory on this), and legitimate complaints certainly exist. Chief among them are parents who want to stay in touch with their kids on their way home from school (some kids have to travel quite a ways via public transportation or have other complicated arrangements) or in case of emergency.

But I have one problem with the people who criticize the ban, and that is this: what's the better solution?

Allowing students to carry cell phones with them has at least as many downsides. My school had a "we see it, we take it" policy, but most teachers are wary of taking students' property (I was nearly assaulted by a student after taking his cell phone) and it's impossible to see a cell phone every time a student takes one out anyway. Meanwhile, students waste time in class, send risque photos, cheat, spread word of fights, and otherwise participate in un-academic or dangerous behavior.

To me, at least in the school where I taught, the costs of having cell phones outweigh the benefits. The alternative would be some sort of compromise -- students are allowed to bring their cell phones to school, but have to check them in with an administrator when they arrive, for example. I'm not going to argue that there's not a workable solution out there, but I haven't seen one proposed that adequately solve the concerns of both sides. My ears are open.


Rachel said...

As a parent of a middle schooler who just got a cell phone, I tend to be skeptical of the ban.

My daughter's school has a "cell phones must be off during school hours" policy, and I haven't heard that it's an issue for teachers, and I haven't heard of serious cell-phone related problems at the high schools.

I suspect the need for the NYC ban is a symptom of deeper behavior/discipline problems, and my gut reaction is that if a "cell-phones must be off" policy isn't workable, a school should be looking at what culture changes need to happen to make it possible.

And I guess what troubles me about the NYC ban is that the decision is not left up to the individual school sites. If a school can come up with a workable policy short of a total ban, I'd say more power to them. It's not an issue that has to be decided at the central level.

Corey Bunje Bower said...

Good points.

Cell phones were a major issue at my school, but I'm sure they're not at others. And, you're right, they were an issue b/c there were deeper behavioral and cultural problems in the school.

I'd agree that schools should be allowed to implement other policies they think are workable, but I wonder how many principals prefer the central policy. In other words, if the principal doesn't feel there's a workable solution, then when parents complain about the policy they can say "sorry, it's out of my hands" rather than having to explain why they're not allowing kids to bring cell phones into the school.

That's not to say that individual teachers and schools aren't circumventing the ban. I routinely locked phones in my closet if students asked me to (rather than confiscating the phone and scolding the student).

Roger Sweeny said...

My school's policy is that you can bring cell phones and other electronics to school but once the school day starts, they can't be used.

If you see something being used, you can take it or tell the student to put it away--and some times a teacher will just look the other way.

It seems to work pretty well.

Corey Bunje Bower said...

I don't doubt that that policy works in a lot of schools, but it absolutely did not in mine (and I've seen it not work in other schools as well).