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De Blasio administration rescinds school cellphone ban

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio holds

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a news conference in the Blue Room at City Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014. Credit: Charles Eckert

A Bloomberg-era ban on students possessing cellphones in New York City public schools is being lifted, the Department of Education said Wednesday.

Under the policy shift, formally announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio and schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, all 1.1 million of the city's public school students will be allowed to bring in cellphones and other electronic devices beginning March 2.

"I do think we need to become part of the modern world," Fariña said at the announcement at a Bay Ridge school.

The city was expected to rescind the unpopular prohibition after the then-candidate made a mayoral campaign promise to do so in 2013. Last September, he admitted that his son, Dante, routinely flouts the ban and carries a cellphone to Brooklyn Technical High School, where he is a senior.

Families long complained that the ban leaves them unable to communicate with their children during the school day and in cases of emergency. Advocates for the disadvantaged lamented that the ban discriminates against poorer students, who were more likely to attend school in buildings where metal detectors are used.

City schools had a cellphone ban for decades, with uneven degrees of adherence. But about eight years ago, when then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg backed the ban, the schools began aggressive enforcement.

A cottage industry of cellphone storage trucks outside the schools sprung up in the wake of the ban, charging students about $1 a day to store their cellphones.

Many educators, as well as Bloomberg, said in support of the ban that the devices enable cheating and cyberbullying and provided an unneeded distraction to education.

Principals will have wide discretion on how to implement the policy in their building, such as requiring they be out of sight, used only during designated times, or stored for the duration of the school day. They won't, however, be allowed to ban the devices entirely, de Blasio said.

The rule change needs to be approved by the Panel for Educational Policy. Approval is expected.

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