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Banning Cell Phones in Akron Schools

On a brisk January afternoon, Dan Stanley is returning Christmas presents at Chapel Hill Mall in Akron. He's a single father who often works late shifts. He says with his unpredictable schedule, his 6th grade daughter's cell phone is the only way he can communicate with her and get her home from school.

Dan Stanley: She'll leave it on and have it in her locker and if I need to get a message to her, or she can get one to me. If I work over or whatever. We just need the communication.

Currently in Akron, each individual school has its own policy about cell phone use, with varying restrictions. Tonight, the Akron School Board will vote on a proposal that would create a uniform policy for the district. It would ban cell phones, pagers and laser pointers from school grounds, buses and all school related activities. Board President Curtis Walker says, at last month's board meeting opinions were pretty split on the issue.

Curtis Walker: There was some lively discussion about it, because there are pros and cons.

Walker says the advantages to banning cell phones from an educators point of view are simple - no phones means fewer distractions in class, and less cheating on tests. He says text-messaging over cell phones makes cheating far too easy.

Curtis Walker: Young people have become adept. So a person could be taking a test, finish taking the test, they know they have a buddy who's going to take the same test - they could text message the answer to question one is... so that child has, in essence, a cheat sheet.

Walker adds if there was a crisis at a school, administrators fear students with cell phones would contact their parents and those people would then rush to the school and create gridlock.

Curtis Walker: That would snarl the traffic and prevent public service vehicles from getting to the scene.

A number of the districts surrounding Akron allow kids to carry cell phones but not use them. Of Ohio's large urban districts, Cleveland and Dayton have full bans on cell phones on school grounds. Cincinnati had a ban last year, but this year relaxed the rules to allow for special cases. Even New York City is struggling with the issue. It banned all cell phones and parents filed a lawsuit last summer. Now, officials are exploring a compromise, where students check their cell phones at a school's steps and secure them in small lockers.

The issue is so sensitive that kids are nervous about making their opinions public. In the Chapel Hill mall parking lot, high school senior Jessica doesn't want her last name used because she fears retribution from her teachers. Smith says an all out ban on cell phones goes too far, especially since she's never seen anyone using text messages to cheat. She says its more like passing notes.

Jessica: Like, if they're cheating, then it's wrong, but if its not about school work, I think it's okay. 'Cause teachers walk around when you take (a) test anyway.

However, long time Akron resident Lisa Billage says just because the technology is available doesn't mean its essential.

Lisa Billage: Back when I was going to school we managed fine and we had no cell phones in school.

Stow father of two Dave Cooper agrees.

Dave Cooper: Kids have been walking to school for generations, and a lot of kids take buses to school. So, I still don't think that kind of communication is necessary.

No matter which way the Akron Board of Education votes tonight, parents and students will find a way to adapt. Single parent Dan Stanley says his daughter Sara must have a cell phone for them to communicate and if a ban is instituted, he says they'll have no choice but to break the rules.

Dan Stanley: I told her I said you're going to have to hide it. I said don't get caught with it. If you get caught once we're going to have to stop. But I was going to go ahead and let her take it. Because this is what I need.

The Akron School Board will decide the issue tonight at its monthly meeting. Lisa Ann Pinkerton, 90.3.