NYC plans to lift ban on student cellphones in schools

Mayor Bill de Blasio will lift a longtime ban on cellphones in New York City public schools, ending a widely unpopular practice and bringing the city in line with other large school districts.

De Blasio, who announced the policy change Wednesday afternoon during a news conference at a Brooklyn school, said the new plan will go into effect March 2.

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“It’s time to take a common-sense action that will give parents a better piece of mind,” said the mayor, who has acknowledged that his own son, Dante, brings a phone to Brooklyn Technical High School. “We need to hear from our kids and this guarantees we can.”

The rule requiring cellphones and electronic devices like iPads to be left at home was put in place by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg to address concerns about cheating, theft and the risk of students using their phones to summon a crowd for a fight. But the ban has never been enforced consistently.

At schools without metal detectors, many students bring phones and keep them stowed in their backpacks. But most schools in the 88 buildings with metal detectors enforce the ban, and some students at those schools pay $1 a day to store their phones in a van or at a local business.

High school sophomore Jessica Flores dropped her phone off at a van parked in front of the Washington Irving campus in Manhattan on Wednesday and said she would be “really happy” to see the ban end. Junior Arthur Mosley said, “We’re wasting money every day.”

De Blasio promised to overturn the ban during his 2013 mayoral campaign.

Each school will have an individualized policy determined by its principal, with input from parents and teachers, according to Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina. The three most common choices will likely be for the students to store them in their backups for the day, to be allowed to use them during lunch or in other designated areas or to be allowed to occasionally use them in the classroom for instructional purposes.

Students who violate the guidelines and are spotted using their phones at prohibited times – or for illicit purposes – risk having their devices confiscated, Farina said.

Mona Davids, president of the New York City Parents Union, said she welcomed the change in policy. “As parents, we will feel more comfortable knowing we can keep in contact with our children while they are commuting to school,” Davids said.

Allowing phones inside a school but telling students to keep them stowed during class will mirror policies of other districts such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta. Under the new rules, principals and teachers will decide how to handle cellphones in schools.

Ernest Logan, the head of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, said in a statement, “Our collective priority is educating students in a safe and secure environment. We hope these new policies do not undermine that goal.”

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