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A Ding-a-Ling Policy

September 26, 2003

Los Angeles schools operate without a formal policy to encourage student attendance but need one on student cellphones?

The ongoing debate on whether to extend the current ban on cellphones rings with time-wasting silliness. The state, which had imposed the ban, recently left the choice to individual districts. In the case of Los Angeles Unified, district staff members want to keep the phones off campus. As if they have so far.

Despite the ban, Times staff writers Duke Helfand and Erika Hayasaki recently reported, kids regularly take cellphones to school and no one does much about it. What's the point of an unenforced rule, except to teach kids that rules don't matter?

Parents, meanwhile, insist that their children carry cells in case of an emergency at school. They have reason to worry, as the recent shooting at Taft High School illustrates. Also, many teens don't go straight home from school. They head to jobs or extracurricular activities or into neighborhoods where a mobile phone is vital to communicate with grown-ups about schedule changes or sudden danger.

Yes, teenagers -- learning from adults, no doubt -- can rudely fail to turn ringers off before class and, occasionally and unpardonably, chat away during instruction. For this, a little etiquette education is in order, not a fiat that will just make students laugh as they tuck Nokias into backpacks.

Simple misbehavior is better handled by principals and teachers than by distant bureaucrats. A reminder at the beginning of class usually will get those phones turned off, just as it does at the movies. In the case of repeat offenses, confiscating a phone for a week or so should provide plenty of incentive to behave. Who knows, maybe the miscreant will learn it's possible to live without phone glued to face every spare minute.

To do more research, the school board delayed making its cellphone decision until mid-October. Forget that and this ban. The district, instead, should spend its time crafting a long-overdue set of attendance rules for kids, so schools can get more state funding and students can do more learning.

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