The Department of Education officials are smiling and parents are seething: Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Lewis Bart Stone ruled that the DOE could continue to ban cell phones.
The DOE has claimed that cell phones are disruptive and students use them to cheat, while students and parents feel the phones are necessary for safety purposes. The DOE's cell phone ban prompted eight parents to sue the city, and, per the AP, calling the ban "irrational and unsafe" and intruding "on a parent's right to determine a child's care, custody and control." Students resorted to finding babysitters for their phones, comparing notes on what schools enforced the rule, having walk-outs to protest and detailing tales of cell phone-less horror to Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum.
In the end, Judge Stone agreed with the DOE's position. From the AP and Sun:
He said he did "not rule on the wisdom or lack of wisdom of the cell phone rules" or on any future modification or repeal the DOE might choose to make about rules regarding possession of cell phones in public schools.
The judge noted that the parents suggested there might be technological "fixes" that would satisfy both sides, but no suggestion was compelling enough for him to find the DOE cell phone rules faulty.
Even if he were to try to impose a technology-based decision, the judge said, the rapid pace of technological change would probably make obsolete any decision he might issue. (AP)
In the court papers, Mr. Stone dismissed the plaintiffs' argument that the ban on possession is more disruptive than a ban on use, noting that teachers would have to replace security guards in enforcing it.
"Under a use ban, cell phones will be carried by teenagers and tweens (and maybe even younger children) whose self control may not be perfectly formed." (Sun)
The NY Times had another Judge Stone quote: "The court finds that banning possession in the school is not an irrational method to accomplish such goal...Neither the state nor federal constitutions include any express constitutional right to bear cellphones." Hmm, is that the sound of cell phone company executives contacting lawyers to work on that? Stone did leave a little wiggle room, by writing, the "court may feel a different choice would have been better."
Parent Ellen Bilofsky told the Sun that on September 11, 2001, her then 14-year-old daughter and Stuy sophomore had wandered around Manhattan because she didn't have a cell phone and couldn't get in touch with her parents: "If they are not able to protect the students, I don't think that they have the right to tell parents not to do what they can to protect their children." Civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, who represented the parents, said that they are "seriously considering" an appeal, but took comfort in the fact that the judge's ruling suggests that principals should make decisions about the ban on a case-by-case basis.