New York City ends ban on cellphones in public schools

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City is ending its ban on students bringing their cellphones into the city’s public schools, the mayor’s office announced on Wednesday.

A man uses a smartphone in New York City, in this picture taken November 6, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Under the new rules, principals in the largest school system in the United States will be allowed to devise their own cellphone policy, or use a default policy of allowing students to bring their phones to school as long as they remain out of sight.

“Parents should be able to call or text their kids,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement, citing the concerns he and his wife had as the parents of two teenaged children who rode the subway to city public schools.

He also said lifting the ban on cellphones and similar mobile gadgets put in place by his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, would reduce “inequity.” The ban has tended to be more rigidly enforced at schools with metal detectors in poor neighborhoods.

The ban has given rise to a cottage industry of cellphone storage businesses near schools across the city. Countless students stash their phones for the day at nearby grocery stores or in vans that roam outside school gates for a small fee, typically a dollar or so.

Some families find themselves spending some $180 on a student’s phone storage fees in a year, the city said.

Students who flouted the ban could expect anything from a stern word from a teacher to detention or exclusion from some of the more pleasurable parts of school, such as communal lunches.

Principals might choose to make students store their phones in backpacks or in a storage spot at the school for the day, or allow students to use their phone in designated areas or at designated times.

In some instances, students might be allowed to use their phones or tablets for “instructional purposes” in the classroom, although never during examinations, according to the city’s announcement about the rules.

Students who flout the rules can expect to have their phones confiscated. Schools also will be expected to do more to stop cellphones, which usually now come replete with cameras and access to social-media networks, from being used as a means of bullying.

About 1.1 million students attend one of New York City’s public schools. The new rules are expected to go into effect in early March.

Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Bill Trott