Jewish World Review Dec. 7, 2001 / 22 Kislev, 5762
John H. Fund
Let our students keep
their cell phones
WE'VE heard so much about how civil
liberties are going to be restricted in the wake of
the Sept. 11 terror attacks, it's nice to know that
in one small area freedom is being expanded
because of public pressure. Parents and kids
should both be pleased that many states are
repealing bans on cell phones in school, making
it easier for them to reach each other in an
A ban on cell phones, beepers and pagers in schools
made some sense in the mid-1980s when they were
imposed. The technology that powered them was in its
infancy and the devices were rare and costly. "The only kids
who could afford them were selling dope," says Illinois
State Rep. Mary Flowers, who led her state in banning the
devices in 1986 but now wants to repeal her own law. But
in 1999, students and teachers at Columbine High School
used cell phones to contact police about the shootings there.
Colorado was one of the few states that didn't ban cell
phones from schools.
Then on Sept. 11, people all over the country felt an
urgent need to contact each other after the World Trade
Center and Pentagon bombings. No one knew if the
terrorists weren't trying to hit other targets in other cities.
"Do you know what it's like as a mother to hear a busy
signal when you're trying to find your child?" asks Rep.
In the wake of the terror attack, New York City
Schools Chancellor Howard Levy ended the ban on cell
phones this week. Oklahoma, Missouri and Maryland have
also repealed their bans, with the understanding that schools
can and should bar them from being left on in class.
Maryland's law was particularly ridiculous-kids faced jail
time if caught with a "communications device."
That still leaves most states with the ban in place,
including the nation's largest, California. The law there was
put into effect in 1986, after a police survey found that 51
out of 81 schools reported that some students were using
phones to sell drugs.
No doubt that will
be true, but keeping
honest students from
having a cell phone
won't prevent much trafficking. The law is rarely enforced in
California, with many schools operating a "don't ask, don't
tell" policy that allows the students to use phones so long as
they aren't directly in sight of administrators or teachers and
not in class. Drugs are certainly a problem, but driving new
technology underground isn't the answer to social problems.
If it was we'd ban students from driving cars and having
Cell phones and pagers helped comfort millions of
people on Sept. 11, and it's time for states to drop this
Comment on JWR contributor John H. Fund's column by clicking here.
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©2001, John H. Fund