Cell phones at school: To ban or not to ban?

The government of Karnataka state in south India will this week ban the use of mobile phones in schools and junior colleges, citing potential adverse health effects and likely setting off a storm of protest.

The state government has also decided to ban the sale of mobile handsets to children 15 years old and younger, making it difficult for children to acquire and use mobile phones even outside school hours. The government basically says the phones are a nuisance and that the move is based on medical advice that they harm the physical and mental growth of children. The cell phone industry has long held there is no evidence cell phones cause health problems.

According to a BBC report India has the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world, with more than 170 million subscribers. Every month around seven million new subscribers are added to the list and a large number of them are children. And mobile phones are hugely popular with children across Indian cities. In Bangalore in particular where delays and traffic jams are the norm, students use their mobile phones to keep in touch with parents.

That's a refrain New York City parents are using as the city's government yesterday overrode the mayor's veto and passed a bill intended to force a change to the ban on cell phones in the nation's largest public school system. The council passed a bill that gives children the express right to carry phones to and from school. The ban applies to inside school buildings, so the measure won't have any effect on that, but parents who want their children to be able to carry the phones for use in case of emergencies, and other opponents hope it could help their cause. It could give them a legal tool to challenge the ban in court, or could force the administration to compromise, like by providing special lockers at school entrances where students can store their phones while in the building.

According to an Associated Press report, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration has refused to bend on its tough rule that says schoolchildren cannot have phones in schools, not even turned off and put away. Bloomberg says children could also use phones to play games, take photographs, cheat, watch movies and text-message each other.

The city has had a school cell phone ban for years, but students carried them without much consequence until last year, said the AP. When the city began random security checks as part of a crackdown on weapons, it began finding and confiscating hundreds of cell phones, which led to a fierce battle over the policy.

Such cell phone bans are under fire across the country. In Georgia's Coweta County, Cell phones are no longer prohibited at school. The Coweta County Board of Education approved a policy that lets students to have cell phones in their possession, though the phones can't be in use during "instructional time which is defined as the time students arrive at school until the final dismissal bell at 3:30 p.m. The policy committee overturned the existing cell phone policy, which prohibits the presence of cell phones on school grounds altogether.

In Colorado's Poudre School District an April memo said administrators to principals said schools should not entirely prohibit students, teachers and administrators from using cell phones or personal communication devices, or PCDs, at school, as other school districts that have banned cell phones in schools have received a backlash from parents who want to be able to communicate with their children during the day.

In Montgomery County, Md. the new school year was greeted with an new rule: students will be allowed to carry - but not use - their cellphones at school without violating the code of conduct. The Washington Post characterized the move as "another Washington area school system bows to the will of a wireless community."

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