By MAUREEN O’HARA
Capital News Service
LANSING — Giusy Fisher admits to being nervous when her 16-year-old daughter, Monica, is on the road.
The Midland County resident confesses to resting easier, however, now that Monica carries a cell phone, a commodity that many parents are now relying on for safety concerns.
“I don’t use it to check up on her,” she said. “It just makes me feel safe because I know that there are not pay phones on every corner in Midland.”
Walking the halls of Midland High School, Monica sees many students carrying cell phones.
But most students and parents may not know that Michigan law prohibits students from carrying personal communication devices in school except for health reasons.
Rep. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, hopes to change that. He has introduced legislation to allow school districts to establish their own rules.
“School districts should adopt their own policy concerning personal communication devices like cell phones and pagers,” Kuipers said. “There are some instances where schools are allowing their use already, or not punishing kids for using them. I don’t think the current law is working.”
Don Wotruba, director of legislative affairs for the Michigan Association of School Boards, said local boards are better suited for having the responsibility of creating a cell phone policy.
“The parents will have more local input because the districts will be making the decision,” he said. “It is easier for a parent to make a change in local government than in Lansing.”
The bill came at the request of parents like Fisher who wanted to be able to reach their children in emergency situations. In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, she thought it would be a good idea for Monica to have a cell phone. Now, Monica carries it everywhere and admits to feeling uncomfortable without it.
Another issue prompting parents to support cell phones is increasing school violence in the wake of the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colo., said Darin Ackerman, legislative aide to Kuipers.
“We wanted to make them somewhat available,” he said. “A flat-out ban was ridiculous, but the students should have limited access.”
According to a House legislative analysis in 1988, cell phones were associated with drug trafficking and other illegal actions, a correlation that Monica does not agree with.
“That is such a stereotype,” she said. “I don’t know anyone with a cell phone who participates in those activities. It’s just a means of communication.”
While the number of students with cell phones has proliferated, Wotruba is quick to remember the circumstances that led to the ban.
“There was a different kind of reality surrounding cell phones and pagers,” he said. “The typical student back then didn’t have one, but now there is an amazing number of kids with a phone.”
Enforcing the new rules will be a challenge, Wotruba said, but he suggests that each student have to register the phone and give explicit reasons for probable use.
“We’ve found that if a student is treated with respect, then they respect the rules,” he said. “This could even foster a better relationship between school officials and students.”
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By MAUREEN O’HARA