Schools may ban cell phones in emergencies

A Peninsula school district is considering banning students from calling parents on their mobile phones in the event of an emergency as part of greater restrictions on use of the devices.

The new policy, which goes before the San Mateo-Foster City School District Board of Trustees for a vote Thursday, states that during school emergencies all communication is to occur between school staff and parents. Students breaking the rule would be asked to put the cell phone away, and it could be confiscated if they refuse to comply, Assistant Superintendent Toni-Sue Passantino said.

“In time of a disaster, probably most of the cell phones will be down. And if they work, they might work in a way you don’t want them to work,” Assistant Superintendent Mary Willis said.

Last March, the district had a bomb scare at Bowditch Middle School in Foster City, and students were moved to nearby Audubon Elementary School. The scare was false, but students’ use of cell phones created chaos when excited parents unnecessarily arrived to pick up their children, Passantino said. Those students who weren’t picked up returned to Bowditch and finished their school day.

A cell phone could be a threat in and of itself during a real bomb situation, administrators said.

“Part of the problem is that the kids [make things] sound a little worse than they are. Things were under control,” Foster City Police Capt. Jon Froomin said.

But Cindy Taylor, a Bowditch parent who was at Audubon during the scare, said that while she understands why schools don’t want kids calling, she also probably would like a call.

“What happens if there’s an earthquake? That would really worry me if I wasn’t able to hear from my child,” Taylor said.

The policy is part of a larger set of rules that ban cell phone use during school hours. Most middle-school students have phones and obey the rules, administrators said, though several at Borel Middle School admitted to text-messaging during class Wednesday. But both students with and without phones said they don’t understand why they can’t call in an emergency.

“I think the kids could just call their moms and dads. It wouldn’t really matter if they talked to the staff, it would be the same thing,” said Joe Kwon, 12, who does not have a phone. “I think they made the law … because people were fooling around with it so much.”

kwilliamson@examiner.com

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