May 15, 2006 The United Federation of Teachers is no longer happy about the random weapon searches, which began in New York City schools last month, in part because authorities are confiscating students' cell phones.
Randi Weingarten, UFT president, said, "Cell phones are a lifeline for many parents and children. After 9/11 and the Roosevelt Island tram incident, it is obvious we need a way for parents to make sure their children are safe."
When Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced the random searches last month he said it was to fight the rising number of guns in schools.
But parents, students and teachers are outraged that more than 600 cell phones have been confiscated so far.
City Councilman Bill de Blasio said, "As a middle school parent, I know that cell phones are an important way for parents and students to communicate. While cell phones can cause legitimate problems inside school, this is about safety too. I want to help school-age families and educators strike a balance that ensures parents are empowered to take responsibility for their children's welfare."
City Council Education Chair Robert Jackson, has also expressed concern. His chief of staff, Susan Russell, said Jackson believes in keeping children safe, but is against confiscating cell phones.
Cell phones have been considered contraband by city schools for years, but enforcement has never been this stringent.
City school Chancellor Joel I. Klein and Bloomberg have both said the ban is necessary because students could possibly use cell phones in class to cheat and they are disruptive when they ring.
The UFT executive board wants schools to develop and enforce a cell phone policy in the building but allow students to bring them to school. "We agree with the prohibition of cell phone use in buildings," said Weingarten, "but we need to have a balance."
Bloomberg said during an interview last Monday, "We are spending $15.5 billion a year to give our children the education they'll need to enjoy all of the freedoms that we want for everybody," but, "you can't do two things at once. So watching video on your iPod or on your cell phone or text messaging or making cell phone calls - that's just not appropriate."
Keith Kalb, spokesman for the New York City Department of Education, said cell phones are being taken when students enter the school but are always returned at the end of the day.
But Bloomberg said that may not continue because it is too time consuming.