By Victor Skinner
ATLANTA – Atlanta public schools announced this week that elementary students will be allowed to bring cell phones to school, if they have permission from their parents and keep them turned off.
But the district’s teachers union, the Atlanta Federation of Teachers, thinks elementary students with cell phones at school is a bad idea, and is pressuring the school board to reverse its decision.
The new rule is meant to give students an emergency line to their parents in the event of a crisis, such as a school shooting. Students would need permission from a school employee to use their phones, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.
“Atlanta Board of Education members wanted to relax cellphone restrictions following last month’s shooting at Grady High School, when parents called their children to make sure they were unharmed,” according to the newspaper. “A 17-year-old girl shot herself in the leg Feb. 27, and no one else was injured.”
Atlanta high school students are already allowed to bring their phones to school.
“It was suggested that the Grady situation was much more contained and smooth because the children had access to their phones and could assure their parents that they were fine,” board member Yolanda Johnson said yesterday, according to the AJC.
Union officials say elementary students will cell phones will cause problems for “overburdened” school staff.
“If you allow cell phones, you’re just putting one more weight on the shoulders of teachers and administrators who are already overburdened,” AFT President Verdallia Turner said, according to CBS.
Turner’s concern about distractions in school is a bit ironic, considering that the AFT and its parent union – the American Federation of Teachers – spend much more time demanding higher pay and advocating for all kinds of causes that don’t pertain to education (like gay rights and abortion rights) than finding ways to improve instruction and student learning.
Besides, teachers unions specialize in creating distractions to learning, particularly when they don’t get their way at contract time.
The AFT branch in Chicago brought education to a halt in that city with a strike last year, leaving hundreds of thousands of students to sit home for a week and a half while members protested for more money. That was pretty distracting.
Considering that Atlanta students will be required to keep their phones put away during school hours, the AFT’s objections seem like bluster.
Swift disciplinary action for students who don’t follow the rules will probably be necessary to make the new policy work. But teachers and school administrators should at least give it a try, particularly if it provides peace of mind for parents forced to send their children to violent government schools.