updated 1/27/2007 8:40:27 AM ET 2007-01-27T13:40:27

School brawls have gone high tech, with students using cell phones to call in reinforcements — in one case requiring police and pepper spray to break up a fight that swelled to about 20 family members on school grounds.

The fracas earlier this month, in which six students and three adults were arrested, was the latest in a surge of cell phone-related fights and prompted Wisconsin’s largest school district to ban cell phones in its 217 schools beginning Monday.

“We consider (cell phones) almost as weapons because when they call, we’re the ones out in front and we don’t know these people are coming,” said Mike Heese, safety security assistant at Bradley Tech High School, where the fight happened.

Prosecutors are also taking a tougher stance. Adults who harm anyone at a school could face felony charges, said Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm. Penalties in the past were often fines for disorderly conduct.

Increasingly common
Milwaukee joins a growing number of school districts that prohibit or limit cell phones. But many bans, including those in New York City, Los Angeles and Boston, were imposed because the phones cause distractions or are used to cheat.

Milwaukee Public Schools have had about one cell phone-augmented fight a month in the last three years, but it seems to have worsened during the last year, said Peter Pochowski, the schools’ director of safety and security.

Two years ago, a fighting student used his cell phone twice in a matter of weeks to summon two carloads of family members, Pochowski said.

Jamilynn Brushel, 18, a senior at Bradley Tech, said she would rather see stricter security guards and teachers, because students who want to fight will do so even without cell phones.

“They won’t need people coming in,” Brushel said. “They’ll just get people who are already here.”

Dorcas Lopez is a mother of two, including a 12-year-old middle schooler who needs to call her when he’s done with basketball. But as a social work assistant at a Milwaukee high school, she has seen kids misuse phones to get someone to lie for them to get them out of school.

She said she does not feel any safer with the ban. “Whatever is going to happen is going to happen,” Lopez said.

Hard line
The district will expel students who use cell phones to summon outsiders for a fight, Superintendent William Andrekopoulos said.

Others could be suspended, have their phone temporarily confiscated, or have a conference with the student or parents. There will be exceptions to the ban for hardship cases, he said.

“I think people have to rise themselves up from a level of convenience to a level of safety,” Andrekopoulos said. “I think that’s where we’re at in this country.”

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