Maryland's wireless students

Cell phones: New law could lead to disruption in state's classrooms beginning Monday.

September 30, 2001

THE POPULAR 1995 teen movie Clueless looked like just another Hollywood fantasy.

In the film, every student was properly equipped with books, pens and cell phones.

Intended as satire, the movie was a harbinger of things to come.

Beginning Monday, cell phones will become as visible as TI-83 calculators on Maryland high school campuses. A new state law repeals the state prohibition against cell phones and pagers on high school grounds.

Under the vanishing law, students aren't allowed to carry cell phones or pagers on public school property. That measure was passed for two reasons: the fear that technology-savvy drug dealers would proliferate and that classrooms would face a new and major distraction.

The new law's proponents thought the ban was too harsh because students violating the law a second time would face a maximum six months in prison and a $2,500 fine. They also made the argument that students need cell phones when leaving after-school activities.

Perhaps they are correct. The law's intent, however, could have been on target while its penalties were excessive.

The legislation was sponsored by Montgomery County Dels. Jean B. Cryor, a Republican, and Dana Lee Dembrow, a Democrat. The Montgomery County school board testified for the bill, and officials in other counties, like Howard, applaud it.

Some jurisdictions, however, opted out of the bill before it passed.

The legislation does not apply to Baltimore, Baltimore County and six Eastern Shore counties.

Elsewhere, schools -- and perhaps individual teachers -- will have to regulate student cell phone and beeper use.

Allowing students to carry these devices is certain to cause problems when phones are accidentally left on during lectures or exams.

This could be a big concern for high school teachers. And it may not be long before the problem trickles down to middle schools.

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