Education Law

Students and Cell Phones? You Make the Call

Literally, cell phones are everywhere. You see them - and maybe even use them - in your car, at restaurants, your child's little league game, maybe even the restroom! The problem, for some at least, is that they're also in schools with our children. The question is, and has been for several years, do kids really need them at school?

The Debate

The argument over students having cell phones in schools isn't new. As you may recall, a cell-phone ban in the New York City Schools sparked a lawsuit by concerned parents.

The debate's been renewed with a recent article written for the Kentucky Center for School Safety. In a nutshell, Jon Akers proposes a ban of cell phones by students in grades K through 12. He identifies 12 problems created by students with cell phones. Some of the most notable are:

  • Bullying or harassing other students, or simply distracting students and teachers, with text messages or calls
  • Cheating by sending, getting, or taking pictures of test questions or answers
  • Taking inappropriate pictures of themselves, or secretly taking pictures of others, and sending them to classmates
  • Involvement in various kinds of crimes, such as gang-related activities or buying or selling illegal drugs

It's hard to argue against these and other good reasons for banning cell phones in elementary and high schools. But don't underestimate parents. They counter cell phone bans with arguments such as:

Parental rights. Cell phone bans interfere with their rights to choose how to raise their children, they say. The parents who fought the New York ban raised this argument. They didn't fare too well, though. The ban is still in effect

Safety. The most often used argument revolves around the need for the parents and children to be able to contact each other immediately in emergencies. Car accidents on the way to and from school, school shootings, and terrorist attacks are the typical emergencies cited by parents. And it usually works, too.

Despite the facts that teenagers are more likely to have an accident because of cell-phone induced distracted driving; and the extremely low odds of violent crimes happening in a school, most schools allow students to carry cell phones out of safety concerns.

Middle Ground

There is some middle ground here that may keep everyone happy, or at the very least satisfy the concerns of both parents and school officials. For example:

  • Students must keep their phones in their lockers or in their cars during the school day
  • Students may carry cell phones, but they must be turned off - not merely set to "vibrate" or "silent ring" - during school hours. Violations of the policy may mean confiscation of the phone, loss of cell phone privileges, or detention and demerits
  • Parents, give your student a no-frills cell phone, one that doesn't have a camera, internet access, text capabilities, etc. In other words, give her a cell phone that can do only and exactly what you want it to do - give you both access to each other when needed

A school's needs for discipline and a distraction-free environment, and a parent's need to keep his child safe, can be met at the same time. All it takes is a little understanding and respect for each side's point of view.

Questions For Your Attorney

  • Can school officials search my child's text and voice messages on her cell phone?
  • Can a school be sued if a student is hurt at school by a criminal and it may have been prevented if cell phones were permitted on campus?
  • Does a school have to pay for a cell that's stolen from a teacher after it was confiscated?
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