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Schools to choose own policies on student cellphones

New York Teacher

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña on Jan. 7 announced the lifting of the ban on cellphones in city schools. Going forward, the Department of Education will allow schools to develop cellphone policies tailored to their individual needs.

The new policy, which also pertains to other electronic devices such as iPads, will take effect on March 2 provided it is approved by the citywide Panel for Educational Policy.

“The UFT has long advocated that schools be free to make their own decisions about how cellphones can be used, while ensuring that student phone use doesn’t get in the way of instruction,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said.

The union’s Executive Board passed a resolution in May of 2006 that called for allowing students to keep their devices for safety reasons but not use them in school.

Under the new policy, School Leadership Teams will decide each school’s cellphone plan. Schools can choose to:

  • let students bring cellphones and other electronic devices into the building as long as they are out of sight;
  • allow students to use their devices on school property only during lunch or in designated areas; or
  • permit students to use their devices in classes where the technology is being used as part of classroom instruction.

In schools that fail to develop a policy, students will be permitted to bring cellphones and other electronic devices into the building provided they don’t access them during the school day.

UFT members were divided on the policy change.

“Freeing schools from this one-size-fits-all policy acknowledges the needs of all communities,” said James Arangio, a middle school math teacher at PS 284 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. “Cellphones play a vital role in maintaining child safety before and after school, especially for families in unsafe neighborhoods and those with working parents.”

But Kristina Diario, a math teacher at the Petrides School on Staten Island, said she was wary that it could lead to abuse by students. Some students, she said, may “now think it’s perfectly acceptable to have cellphones out on their desks during class. This will be a huge distraction. It’s hard enough to keep a 7th-grader’s attention.”

At an afternoon press conference at the HS for Telecommunications in Brooklyn, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the old policy banning phones completely “was out of touch with the reality of modern parenting.”

He called the new policy “a common-sense action which will give parents peace of mind and a better ability to do our No. 1 job — to be there for our children. It will keep kids safer in the process, and there is nothing more important than that.”

Chancellor Fariña said the move was long overdue.

“I believe we should become part of the modern world, and I also know that a lot of technology is good instructional tools,” Fariña said.

That’s a point Arangio related to.

“It’s ironic that while many of our schools suffer from a lack of computers, we are restricting students from bringing their own,” Arangio said. “These devices are capable of so much. Instead of a ban on phones, perhaps we can model their beneficial and appropriate use. Instead of being afraid of the future, let’s help shape it.”