A group of parents, saying they’re concerned for the safety of their children, filed a lawsuit July 13 challenging New York City’s ban on students having cell phones in public schools.
The eight parents’ lead lawyer, Norman Siegel, said the lawsuit was filed against the city’s Department of Education, schools Chancellor Joel Klein, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg after they “callously refused” to discuss or listen to concerns about the ban. “The ban needs to be lifted so a vital communication link between parents and student can continue,” Siegel said.
The lawsuit does not ask that cell phones be used during classroom hours, but before and after school, he said.
Siegel said the cell-phone policy, in effect since 1988, is illegal and unconstitutional because it interferes with parents’ rights to oversee their children’s safety. He added that the ban is arbitrary because it was begun without regard to any specific, demonstrated facts.
City education officials, with Bloomberg’s support, have said cell phones are disruptive and distracting, can be used for cheating on tests, and can be used to coordinate gang activity.
But Bronx mother Camella Price, who has two daughters, ages 12 and 14, in public schools, said the cell-phone ban was “a safety issue.”
Price said her 12-year-old daughter had been followed after school by three teen thugs one day and attacked in front of her home. It was only after the girl called home on her cell phone that she was rescued from her assailants, Price said.
Price and other parents who joined Siegel at the news conference said they were concerned about stalkers, sexual predators, children getting lost, abrupt changes in parents’ work schedules, and other problems.
Siegel said that, because the city has taken its “incredibly rigid line and has refused to negotiate,” the parents contacted him. The plaintiffs are eight parents and a group called the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council.
City law department spokeswoman Kate Ahlers said she could not comment yet because city attorneys had just received the lawsuit and were reviewing it.
Plaintiff Carmen Colon, a mechanical engineer with three sons, ages 10, 13, and 17, said cell phones “are here to stay”–so city school officials need to learn to deal with them. “To not address the needs of the many because of the irresponsible behavior of a few is a cop-out,” the Brooklyn mother said.
She called on city officials to “sit down with us and do the work” to find alternatives to a ban.
Two teens who attended the news conference, Obed Fernandez, 14, and his sister Rebeca Fernandez, 13, said neither of them carried cell phones to school but would gladly do so if allowed.
And their mother, Carmen Morena, agreed students should be allowed to have the phones. “Any emergency could happen,” she said.
The cell-phone ban has prompted passionate protests by parents and students.
More than 100 protesters, many holding up cell phones and signs such as “Schools are not prisons,” rallied at City Hall in May to demand that the city’s education department reverse the ban.
A month earlier, roughly 150 Brooklyn students walked out of their classes early and rallied for an hour outside their school to protest the ban and slow security procedures. Five people were arrested.
Across the country, many school systems have lifted outright cell-phone bans on school property in recent years out of respect for parents’ safety concerns–especially in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Most school systems, however, continue to prohibit the use of cell phones during class time.