A new proposal to help students deal with New York City’s controversial ban on cell phones in public schools is getting a lot of buzz, but it might hit a dead zone first.
Officials say they are exploring whether to install special lockers outside some schools to store students’ cell phones, a development that delayed recent court arguments on the ban. Plenty of parents and students who oppose the ban, however, are signaling pessimism about the logistics.
“I wish it would work, but I just know it won’t,” said Dorothy Giglio, 53, a co-president of the Parent Teacher Association at James Madison High School. “I have almost 4,300 students in my building. I cannot envision 4,300 lockers in front of the building.”
The lockers won’t likely be in place until the fall, and even then the program might launch at only one or just a handful of schools, said David Cantor, a schools spokesman.
He said the school system is searching for a vendor who can absorb the entire cost of the operation. That would probably require charging the students that use them, perhaps a quarter or 50 cents each time.
The lockers will have to be outside the school building, Cantor said, acknowledging that the largest schools would have the hardest time finding places for them and handling the flow.
“We’re trying to make a real effort to be responsive to parents who felt that we were not concerned about their ability to reach their kids and their kids’ ability to reach them, while at the same time not compromising on our commitment not to let cell phones in the school doors,” Cantor said.
Some parents and students argue the idea should be dropped. The lockers could cause more problems, and not just because they’d take up space, they say.
“Especially if the lockers are outside the school, people could just break into [them],” said Rebecca Falik, a 16-year-old junior at LaGuardia High School. “And if you have to pay for it, it’s just kind of ridiculous. It’s your right to have a cell phone.”
Her father was especially opposed to a charge. “We’re supposed to have a free public education,” Eugene Falik said. “The locker proposal says the kids who have the money to rent the locker get to use it–kids who don’t, don’t.”
As things now stand, students sometimes pay corner stores small fees to hold their cell phones for the school day.
Cell phones have been banned inside the city’s schools for years, but last spring, increased efforts to monitor what students took into schools brought the subject to the forefront.
Parents staged rallies and lobbied elected officials to try to rescind the ban, saying they wanted their children to have the phones so that they could reach them in emergencies.
School officials, as well as Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose office controls the city public school system, argued cell phones were a distraction and could be used for nefarious purposes, including cheating.
A group of parents filed a lawsuit arguing that the ban as it currently stood was too broad and infringed on parents’ constitutional rights. (See “Parents sue NYC schools over cell-phone ban, http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showstory.cfm?ArticleID=6549.)
Norman Siegel, a lawyer representing the parents, said the problem is that many parents want to be able to reach their children while they are on their way to school or on their way back, but that many agree cell-phone use should be limited or prohibited within the school buildings.
Oral arguments were scheduled in December, but they were delayed until Jan. 18 while the various parties learn more about the locker proposal.
New York City Department of Education