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Council Members Urge Walcott to Lift Cellphone Ban

Tuesday, July 03, 2012 - 04:00 PM

City Council members are asking Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott to reconsider the longstanding ban on cellphones in public schools.

Forty-seven of the Council's 51 members signed a letter to Mr. Walcott that was written by Councilman Lewis Fidler, Democrat of Brooklyn, as reported in The Daily News. The letter calls the current policy "inconsistent and possibly discriminatory" because it is enforced mostly at schools with metal detectors. Many of those schools are in low-income and mostly minority neighborhoods where students pay stores and van operators to store their phones during class.

SchoolBook reported on the ban in October, and heard from many readers on the controversial topic.

Mr. Fidler's letter urges the city to change the policy to allow students to take their phones to school so long as they keep them turned off and out of view. That, he said, would allay the fears of worried parents.

"You're not letting that kid out of the house without a way to call you and say, 'I'm late, I have a problem,' " Mr. Fidler said. "Without that cellphone, I mean, go find a pay phone, right? Go find a pay phone."

Chancellor Walcott had no comment on the letter, according to his office, but he has defended the ban in the past, describing cellphones as a distraction.

Mr. Fidler said his two children took cellphones to Edward R. Murrow High School, which did not have regular metal detectors, but were told to return home with their phones if the police took random metal detectors to school.

The City Council cannot change the ban on cellphones because the schools are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Education. Mr. Fidler said he hoped the chancellor would update the policy.

The City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, did not sign Mr. Fidler's letter, but he said that Ms. Quinn typically did not sign on to other members' letters. A spokesman for Ms. Quinn, Justin Goodman, said: “The speaker continues to support the rights of students to carry cellphones to and from school as reflected in the law we passed in 2007. We have always believed that the cellphone ban put students' safety at risk.”

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