Pa. Lawmakers Mull Cell Phone Ban For Schools

In "Doubt," set in 1964, Meryl Streep's Sister Aloysius objected to the use of ballpoint pens, which she believed ruined penmanship.  

As it turned out, she was on the wrong side of history.

But the reactionary impulse sparked by innovation still lingers. The latest example comes from Pennsylvania, where state lawmakers introduced House Bill No. 363, according to Techdirt. The measure would prohibit students from possessing cell phones, iPods or other portable electronic devices in school, on school buses and at school-sponsored activities. The bill would only allow schools to make exceptions for students who belong to volunteer fire companies, ambulances or rescue squads, and for those who need cell phones for their medical conditions or the medical conditions of immediate family members.

Should Pennsylvania press ahead with this ban, it would join 10 other states that also ban cell phones from school premises, according to this New York Times article.

So far, the measure is drawing pushback in Pennsylvania. Opponents -- including teachers -- have formed a new Facebook group, "Proponents of Progressive Education Opposed to PA House Bill 363," and have also started an online petition drive. "We see this bill as a backward step in the quest to make Pennsylvania students nationally and globally competitive," states the petition. As of this morning, it had been signed by almost 250 people.

It's always going to be difficult to convince everyone that the benefits of new technology outweigh potential harms. Some people argue that cell phones enable cheating on tests, while others say they distract students from paying attention.

But, like the computer, calculator, ballpoint pen, or any other invention that makes life easier for people, cell phones and iPods also confer obvious benefits. For instance, schools throughout the country are now creating podcasts, while parents have long used cell phones to reach their children in emergencies.

Technology is only going to continue to improve, and digital media will inevitably become more important -- both to students and teachers. This bill, if enacted, won't change that, but could potentially put Pennsylvania students at a disadvantage to those who grow up in more tech-savvy jurisdictions.

Of course, in an era where even the leader of the free world had to fight to keep his BlackBerry, it shouldn't be surprising that government officials don't always recognize the benefit of technology.

6 comments about "Pa. Lawmakers Mull Cell Phone Ban For Schools".
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  1. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, February 16, 2009 at 4:38 p.m.

    In the past 6 months, I have almost been hit be teenagers driving while on a cell phone call. So the problems with cell phones go well beyond high school. I firmly believe the cell phone use at the wrong time and place is more harmful. I see no good reason in school kids having a cell phone in schools other than the reasons mentioned in the PA bill.

  2. Russell Cross from Prentke Romich, February 16, 2009 at 4:52 p.m.

    The "problem" is not with possessing the phone it's with the inappropriate use of the phone in the school setting. It is no secret that kids use them at school for more than "emergencies" - my daughter tells me that she and her friends use them constantly for messaging (if you have good motor control you can text without seeing, and a surreptitious glance at a screen is easy).

    The "emergency" notion is a a bit of a red herring: up until the phone becoming ubiquitous, an "emergency" was dealt with by calling the school office and having a message passed on to a student: I can't imagine a situation where an "emergency" is so vital that the having the kid paged from the office would make a difference.

    Banning is not the answer - developing and using some form of phone-use protocol is the only way. (Although I am all for jamming devices in movie theaters!)

  3. Michael Munz from Making Law Easy, February 16, 2009 at 5:37 p.m.

    The problem of cell phones goes far beyond our youth. Pennsylvania Laws needs to include everybody, all ages. This would be a good article for the network attorneys of or either way I will write about this topic and have some of Pittsburgh's local attorneys comment.

  4. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., February 16, 2009 at 6:53 p.m.

    As a parent with a kid in High School - I know these devices are used for more than "calling home" - BUT in this fast-paced, after-school program dominated environment - I would never support a ban on cell phones in school. Example: My kid has a percussion teacher who routinely makes kids stay late, I mean 6:30, 7pm. If it were not for the cell phone, I'd spend way more of my life sitting in the school parking lot than I already do. This way, at 6:30 I can text my kid "What's up?" and he can quickly text me back and we know what's up. How would we do that if he didn't have a cell phone?

  5. Daniel Neal from kajeet, Inc., February 17, 2009 at 10:41 a.m.

    I'm the founder and CEO of a company created specifically to deal with the challenges of mobile technology in schools, kajeet. ( ) Our affordable no-contract cell phones have parental controls that can be used to control time of day of usage, who can call or text in and out, who pays for what, and what mobile services are allowed. I have 2 kids (10 and 13). In our family, I set the controls so that they can only call/text my wife and me during school hours (911 always works). Calls within the family are paid for by me, all their other usage is paid for by them with a phone allowance they get. And all the available content is kid-appropriate. I use our GPS Phone Locator to keep track of my daughter's location. Our idea is that each family has it's own views on how to structure their kids' mobile usage (assuming they want their kids to have cell phones, which isn't always the case). We simply provide the tools in an affordable package (with cool phones kids like). Happy to share more if you like. I'm at dneal @ kajeet dot com.

    Best, --Daniel Neal

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, February 20, 2009 at 8:08 p.m.

    Jonathan, just the point you make. Cell phones also make you lazy and uncommunicative. You deal directly with the teacher and work out a solution. Otherwise, you are lazily teaching your children not to face and work with the obstacles they will face when you are dead (hope you live long and healthy, but there are no guarantees).

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