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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Cell Phones in School

This will be an interesting change of pace from the previous unofficial policy:
Milwaukee schools Superintendent William Andrekopoulos says the school system must come up with a way to deal with the heavy use of cell phones when trouble breaks out at a school, an innovation that has increased the severity of incidents such as a fight Monday morning at Bradley Tech High School. [. . .]

The cell phone phenomenon has shown up in other schools in MPS, in the suburbs and nationwide: When trouble breaks out, students reach for the phones, and within moments, other youths are on their way to the scene, sometimes literally from miles around. [. . .]

Although use of cell phones is generally banned in schools, both in Milwaukee and the suburbs, it is obvious to anyone around a high school or middle school--and sometimes even elementaries--that a vast majority of students carry them and use them frequently. Sometimes when schools have tried to crack down on the phones, parents have been the ones to object the most, saying they want their children to be able to reach them during school hours.
For several years, MPS principals have been told--at least, they've told me they've been told--that there is little the district will do to back them up on any kind of large-scale cell phone enforcement policy, in part because of their ubiquity and in part because of parents' insistence that their children have them.

When I first started teaching in MPS, only a handful of students carried cell phones, and they were the ones who used them principally for their, um, business activities. You could find them, isolate them, confiscate them, and generally deal with the problem on that scale. But now, literally almost every student is carrying a phone--and all of them much nicer than the crappy little phone I have. It would take all day to get every phone and then the better part of a month dealing with parents to return them.

I generally subscribe to the "out of sight, out of mind" philosphy: Only when the phone comes out during class does it becomes a problem--even when, as is often the case, it's parents calling during the school day. (The occasional chat I get to have with a parent on these phones is always a bonus. "No," I say, "you can't call this number during school. Please call the school and we'll pass along any messages . . .")

So I'm curious to see what kind of new policy will come down. Officials quoted in the article talk wistfully of cell-phone jammers, but those puppies are both illegal and kind of expensive if you want to jam an entire school (I've looked into it). Reinforcing the phones' inappropriateness with parents doesn't seem to help, either in official school communications or in conversations in person, since the frequency with which we see them doesn't change no matter what we say. I'm not sure what else, outside of patting down every student every morning to collect them, we can do.

So I'll ask for the collected wisdom of the Cheddarsphere, here: What solutions do you have hiding in your pocket? How can we stop the cell phones?

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