New York Schools versus the "Electronic Leash"
For a while now, it's been "Don't ring, don't tell."
But now, NYC school officials are trying to cut out students' Razrs and are rolling over students' Rockrs.
Though the phones have been banned in New York City schools for years, parents say that many schools without metal detectors have operated under a kind of "don't ask, don't tell" policy, with the cellphones ignored as long as they do not ring in the middle of class.
But as the city began random security scanning at middle and high schools yesterday in its latest effort to seize weapons, the gap between school rules and parents' expectations has set off a furor. Some principals recently sent home letters reminding parents that cellphones are not allowed, and at the one school searched yesterday, 129 cellphones were confiscated.
Anxious parents say that cellphones are not a frill but the mortar holding New York City's families together in these times of demanding schedules, mounting extracurricular activities, tutoring sessions and long treks to school.
Some of these parents, also fearful of child predators and terrorist attacks, say that sending their children to school without cellphones is unimaginable. "I have her call me when she gets out of school, and she's supposed to get on the bus right away," Lindsay Walt, an artist, said of her daughter, Eve Thomson, 11, a sixth grader at Salk. "Then I have her call me when she gets off the bus, and I have her call me when she gets in the house. The chancellor will have civil disobedience on his hands. No one in New York is going to let their child go to school without a cellphone."
Boy, if the powers-that-be ever tried that in my district, you'd be able to hear the howling all the way to Noo Yawk. Technically speaking, our students are supposed to turn their phones off once they get to school. In reality, the damn things are on all the time, and I haven't gone a day without one ringing in class for at least a month-- and that includes during standardized testing. They look embarassed and apologize and silence them quickly, but still. I really don't want to hear about how It's Hard To Be A Pimp coming off the kneecap of one of my charming suburban mallrats when I'm trying to teach about the relationship between supply, demand, and price. I have tried to warn my kids that if they use a cell phone during their AP exams, their tests could be invalidated and our school could lose its right to administer the test, but I will bet you anything that some wiseguy will try it anyway, because they just don't believe that we're serious.
For those parents who claim they need to be able to contact their child while they are in school, there's this thing called a telephone that all of us teachers have on our desks, and for 99% of our students, that should be more than good enough. Now, for my student with a baby in extremely critical condition in the NICU, that's a different story-- set the thing on vibrate already and put it up against your body, rather than have a tragedy occur. But I've got kids who, when they get bored or hear that there's going to be an assembly, try to go to the john and call mom to excuse them from class. I've got kids who have tried to text-message answers to each other during exams. I've seen kids call each other on their cells when a fight has broken out and caused hundred-student swarms of spectators when adults were trying to restore order and prevent injury. Cell phones can cause plenty of trouble, and don't even start about when they get stolen, which happened to one of our administrators' phones last year. THAT was fun. I have now had to move to having the kids pull out their cell phones, turn them off, and place them face down on their desks during tests, and then I eagle-eye them for the remainder of the period. That's the best I can do, because even though policy says that I should confiscate them, I don't have time to walk 57 cell phones to six different administrators' offices during the day, and I am certainly not going to keep them myself and be responsible for them.
Having been on New York subways, however, I can understand the parents' point about safety. It would be great if the policy would be to turn them off once they get to school, and in the interest of their children's need for safety, the parents and kids would abide by this. But I haven't seen it happen yet.