Students Take Phone Battle to Capitol; They Oppose Law on Cell Phones in School

Article excerpt

Byline: Mary Maraghy, Clay County Line staff writer

A dozen Middleburg High School students lobbying to change a Florida law regarding cell phones in schools have earned an invitation to speak in Tallahassee.

Since August, students in Marty Mayer's Speech II class have been doing research, making telephone calls and writing letters in an effort to get Florida lawmakers to make cell phones legal on school campuses for safety reasons, especially because pay phones are becoming obsolete.

"We don't have pay phones anymore. If you don't have a ride after school, you're stuck here," student Dean Boyles said.

A year ago, pay phones were removed from all Clay County high school and junior-senior high school campuses because students were vandalizing them and making prank 911 calls, said Darlene Mahla, public relations officer for the Clay County School Board.

Under the existing Florida statute, possessing a cell phone on a school campus is a felony. But the law is not enforced, and interpretations vary from county to county and even from school to school, students have discovered.

Under Clay County's policy, Mahla said, students may bring a cell phone to school but it must be left in a locker. To date, this school year, there were 105 suspensions for cell phone offenses -- 81 of them involved a student using a cell phone during school hours, and 24 for possessing a cell phone in the classroom.

Mayer's students surveyed school systems throughout Florida and found that policies varied and that some school systems had no policies.

The students said that according to their research, 51 percent of Florida high school students carry a cell phone.

When the Florida statute was last amended in the 1980s, wireless communication devices were linked to drug trafficking and thus outlawed in schools. Then school officials worried that students would use them to cheat on tests.

In Clay County, students caught carrying a cell phone can get three days of in-school suspension for the first offense. If using the phone at school, a student can be suspended out of school for three days.

"We thought that was a bit ridiculous," student Sarah Gaynor said.

Students agree that they should not use the phones during school, but they said they think they should be allowed to bring them to call for a ride after school or in case of emergencies. Some students at Columbine High School during the shooting spree were saved because they had cell phones, students said. …