Demonstrations Show Need For Cellphones In Schools
Last Wednesday afternoon, the first of what the Rev. Al Sharpton declared would be a wave of protests took place at entrances to bridges and tunnels and other transportation hubs around New York City. Sharpton and other leaders of minority communities had vowed to "shut the city down" to protest the acquittal of three police officers in the shooting death of Sean Bell and the wounding of Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield on Nov. 25, 2006. Bell, Benefield and Guzman were shot, Bell fatally, by the police officers early that morning outside the Club Kalua in Jamaica on what was to have been Bell's wedding day.
Sharpton and other people who want to see someone somehow pay for Bell's death did, in fact, delay automobile and bus traffic and make last Wednesday's evening rush hour aboard public transportation more crowded, hectic and confused than usual. We find it incomprehensible, though, that a public agency would add to that crowding and confusion as a matter of policy- a policy that even risks putting lives in danger. We speak, of course, of the city Department of Education's longstanding refusal to allow students to bring cellular telephones onto school property.
Parents of children attending New York City schools were advised on Tuesday that the Department of Education had received word that demonstrations might possibly take place the following day. The Department of Education, in the person of a deputy chancellor, cautioned that some unavoidable delays in normal transportation service might occur and advised parents to call the city information hotline at 311 and monitor broadcast media outlets for further updates.
We applaud the Department of Education for trying to cover as many bases as possible in anticipation of demonstrations that on Tuesday afternoon no one could say for certain would take place. However, the Department's advice that parents call 311 and keep an eye and an ear on television and radio for "future updates" is impractical in many cases, and that agency's unwillingness to take advantage of the almost instantaneous transmittal of information that cellphones put within easy reach of almost everyone is incomprehensible.
The powers that be at the Department of Education are apparently unaware that not every parent of every child is a stay-at-home mom or dad. Nor does every working parent function in a work environment with access to news media, be such access radio, television, Internet, or telephones. Even if that were the case, given the Education Department's ban on cellphones in schools, how could parents and children let each other know that alternative transportation plans would have to be made or had been devised? Even if every parent of every child were able to call the school office to ask that children be informed of alternative transportation plans, the fact that enrollment at some schools is well over 100 percent of capacity makes such a course of action ludicrous beyond belief. Plainly, the Department of Education is not operating in the same universe as the rest of us.
We have said in this space several times that we heartily endorse a ban on the use of cellphones in class. There is no reason for any child to be making calls, text messaging, accessing a search engine or taking pictures with a cellphone camera while a teacher is trying to teach. Music download devices are to be used in one's leisure time, not when engaged in the serious business of getting an education (though we know such devices can be useful adjuncts to the process). Outside of class, however, cellphones can literally save lives, as events over the past several years have amply demonstrated. Sudden downpours can flood subway lines and streets, steam pipes and water mains can burst, traffic accidents can cause buses and cars to seek out alternate routes. During any or all of these occurrences, the use of land lines may be difficult or impossible. Cellphones are the logical resource in the face of such unforeseen disruptions to life in this city.
In the face of any disaster, natural or human created, parents first think of the safety and well being of their children. We call on the Department of Education to get its collective mind out of the mid-twentieth century and recognize that cellphones are a necessity, not a luxury, in present-day New York City. The Education Department's refusal to use this vital communications instrument to ensure the safety of the children entrusted to its care is illogical and reprehensible.