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Lock and fee? NYC schools weigh cell phone fix

After months of outrage over a ban on cell phones in New York City's school system, the nation’s largest, officials are now signaling that there may be room for compromise. One possible solution: lockers to store them in.
Students at New York's James Madison High School have resorted to sneaking cell phones in book bags during school because of the cell phone ban.Kevin Coughlin / PHOTOSTATION file
/ Source: The Associated Press

After months of outrage over a ban on cell phones in the nation’s largest school system, officials are now signaling that there may be room for compromise.

They are exploring whether to install special lockers outside schools to store the devices, a development that delayed recent court arguments on the ban.

But questions remain about the logistics of such a system in a school district with so many students — and so many students who use cell phones.

“I wish it would work, but I just know it won’t,” said Dorothy Giglio, a co-president of the Parent Teacher Association at James Madison High School. “I have almost 4,300 students in my building. I cannot envision 4,300 lockers in front of the building.”

The locker proposal follows New York’s move last year to step up its scrutiny of what gets in and out of schools — a move aimed primarily at finding weapons. Along the way, schools confiscated thousands of student cell phones. Students have responded by sneaking phones inside their lunches and under their clothes. Students also sometimes pay neighborhood stores small fees to hold their phones for them during the school day.

Parents insist they need to stay in touch with their children in case of emergencies like Sept. 11. They have sued the city over the ban, and sent dozens of angry e-mails to officials.

School officials, as well as Mayor Michael Bloomberg, argue that cell phones are a distraction and could be used for nefarious purposes, including cheating.

New York has more than 1,400 schools and 1.1 million students.

The school system said that if it decides to install lockers, students will probably be charged for their use, perhaps a quarter or 50 cents each time.

“We’re trying to make a real effort to be responsive to parents who felt that we were not concerned about their ability to reach their kids and their kids’ ability to reach them while at the same time not compromising on our commitment not to let cell phones in the school doors,” schools spokesman David Cantor said.