Hanging Up: Cell Phones in School

By: Philip Stewart
By: Philip Stewart

May 9, 2006

Remember when passing a note in class could land you in detention? Times have changed, and these days kids may not be passing as many notes, but that's because they're using cell phones. With features like video, pictures and text messaging, cell phones are quickly creating some problems that schools simply haven't seen before.

Ten years ago only a few people had cell phones. But today there are more than 60 million cell phone users in the United States, and more and more of those users are students

"Over half the students have cell phones at their disposal," estimated Charlottesville High School Principal, Kenneth Leatherwood.

But the city schools are putting rules in place to limit the use of cell phones.

"Our rule is out of sight and off, and not to distract from the educational process," said Leatherwood.

Albemarle, Louisa, Fluvanna, Nelson, Orange, Madison, and Greene County Schools all have similar rules.

"It could be an issue in reference to testing, in giving and receiving information," explained Leatherwood.

But most of all, schools do not feel that students really need a phone while they're in class.

"All the parents, when they send their kids to school, they know where they are. They're at school," said Leatherwood. So if they need to contact the kid at school, they can call the school, and we can always get the student."

But some parents don't see it that way. And some cell phone companies are cashing in.

Verizon Wireless and Cingular Wireless both market phones specifically for young children. Cingular's "Firefly" is made for kids 12 and under. It features just five keys, including "mom" and "dad" buttons, and allows parents to program only certain phone numbers.

Phone companies say it keeps kids safer, allowing them to get in touch with parents whenever they need to, but school administrators says that's a marketing tool.

"That's capitalism, I think," laughed Leatherwood. "And the phone companies are doing all they can to market the phones as much as possible."

But still there are other problems. Recently a fight, at a California youth club, was caught on video using a cell phone. And a New Jersey teacher was caught screaming at his students, after they apparently disrespected the national anthem.

When asked about the fights being caught on cell phone cameras, Leatherwood replied, "It's a sad state of affairs when we get to that point where we're filming things that are detrimental and not accepted in society."

He went on to say that Charlottesville has not had to deal with picture or video incidents yet, but that the rules for keeping phones out of sight during school hours, would stay in effect.

There was also a recent incident near Richmond. Two students were suspended from a Henrico County High School, after they got into a fight. The whole thing was caught on video using a cell phone and then posted to the Internet. One of those students was charged with a misdemeanor and is scheduled to be in court in June.

These incidents are not just happening in other parts of the country, but also very close to home. And that is leading to a number of new rules for a new generation of students, that now have access to a new kind of technology.

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