Gotham Gazette

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Cell Phone Ban Angers Students

On April 26, New York City police officers set up mobile security scanners at the Acorn High School for Social Justice in Brooklyn. They seized 129 cell phones, 10 CD players, two iPods, a box cutter and a knife. Such searches and the ban on cell phones have prompted protests by high school students across the city.

Cell phones have long been banned in the city's public schools, but principals at schools without metal detectors, such as ACORN High School, often ignored the policy, and students got away with carrying cell phones, as long as the phones did not make noise in class.

Now all students have to obey the rules because of a new Department of Education security policy. City police officers have started randomly showing up at schools that don't have metal detectors and using mobile scanners to keep weapons out of the schools, according to a department press release. But the police are also confiscating cell phones, iPods and other banned electronic devices. If cell phones are seized during a scan at school, school officials decide when to return the phones.

Petitions and Protests

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein says the ban is necessary because students use the phones to cheat on exams, take pictures in locker rooms and call friends to help in a fight. But students and their parents say they count on cell phones to stay in touch before and after school. Some city public high school students have been using various tactics to protest the ban, with some students threatening to walk out of class if the metal detectors appear at their schools.

Sharon Weisberg, a freshman at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, organized a petition drive demanding that students be allowed to keep their phones at school for safety reasons. She has collected signatures from more than 700 of the 4,000 students who attend the school.

She said she plans to send her petition to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office when she gets at least 1,000 signatures. She's also working with students at Fort Hamilton, Franklin Roosevelt, Stuyvesant, LaGuardia and Port Richmond High Schools who are circulating their own petitions.

"I was enraged at the stupidity of the mayor. His decisions are idiotic and somebody needed to tell him that," Sharon said.

New Youth Connections writer Dorena Belovet Ruff, 17, understands Sharon's anger. Two years ago, she attended night school at Canarsie High School, which has permanent metal detectors. Her mother worried about her commuting home at 10 p.m. without a phone. "She's like, 'If something happens, I want you to be able to call home,'" Dorena said. "She didn't like it."

So Dorena, and other students at Canarsie, snuck their cell phones into school -- some wrapped phones in tinfoil and pretended it was a sandwich, she said. Dorena would walk through the metal detector and when it beeped, quickly slip the phone in her bag that had already made it safely to the other side.

But with all students -- not just those at schools with metal detectors-- facing the loss of their cell phones, more people are speaking against the policy. Judith List, assistant principal of Murrow's Communication Arts Department, said she's unhappy with the mayor's decision. She has a son in the ninth grade. "I need communication with my child, just like any other parent," said List. "I feel that as long as the student doesn't take it out in class, there should be no problem in carrying them." All students will suffer because of students who abused this privilege, she said.

Staying Home

Parents with children attending the New York City Lab School in Manhattan have suggested that children go home when scanners come to their school, according to comments posted on a Yahoo discussion group.

One Lab School parent told her son: "If you see them at school, just turn around and go home."

"Cell phones are essential for communication," said Alex Rich, 16, a Lab School student. If they try to take away my electronic devices, I just won't go into school."

Ilya Arbit and David Schmutzer are writers for the teen-written magazine New Youth Connections, published by Youth Communication.  

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