High Schools Adjust To The Ever-present Cell Phone

Lansing, Michigan | Updated: Sep 30 2004, 05:30am hrs
Sitting in his second-period computer class at Eastern High School, Gray Taylor, 15, felt his cell phone vibrate. To avoid being caught by the teacher, he answered quietly and discovered an unexpected caller.

Why are you answering the phone in class Grays mother asked. He whispered back, Youre the one who called me. His mother said she had intended to leave a question on Grays voice mail.

Such scenes are playing out across the country, as hundreds of high schools have reluctantly agreed to relax their rules about cell phones in schools. Rather than banning the phones outright, as many once did, they are capitulating to parent demands and market realities, and allowing students to carry phones in school though not to use them in class.

The reversal is a significant change from policies of the 1980s and 1990s, when school administrators around the country viewed cell phones as the tools of drug dealers.

But the phones have become tools used by parents to keep in touch with, and keep track of, their children. And schools are facing a more basic reality: It is no longer possible to enforce such bans.

Over the last two years, more than half a dozen states, including Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Maryland and Nevada, and numerous individual school districts, have either abolished or relaxed their bans.

Theres a feeling across the land that it just aint a big deal anymore, said William Scharff, president of the American Association of State Policy Services, a national association of school boards. More and more states are taking a liberal attitude towards kids carrying phones.

About half of American young people from 13 to 17 are expected to have a cell phone by the end of 2004, according to the research firm Yankee Group. And in many high schools, including poor urban ones, administrators say the figure is closer to 90 per cent.

MATT RICHTEL / NY TIMES