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Atlanta may loosen school cellphone ban


The Atlanta Board of Education approved a school calendar for 2013-2014 that adds two more days to summer vacation before school starts in August.

The 2013-2014 school year starts on Aug. 7, a Wednesday, instead of the previously planned date of Aug. 5, a Monday. School would end May 23, 2014.

The later start date gives schools, parents and students two more days to prepare.

Those extra days at the start of the year result in shorter breaks in October and February. Instead of five-day weekends in those months, students will have four days off from Friday through Monday.

All Atlanta students may soon be allowed to bring cellphones to school so they can call their parents during emergencies and after classes are dismissed.

The Atlanta Board of Education on Monday considered whether to permit middle school and elementary school students to carry phones in school without risking confiscation. High school students already may bring phones as long as they’re turned off during the school day.

Board members said that because students at Grady High School called their parents after a girl accidentally shot herself in the leg last week, they responded calmly. By comparison, parents couldn’t quickly confirm that their children were safe after a 14-year-old was shot in the neck at Price Middle School on Jan. 31.

The board suggested that Superintendent Erroll Davis could issue a regulation relaxing cellphone restrictions, and Davis said any decision he makes would reflect the board’s intentions.

Parents said their children should be permitted to call home during a crisis.

“If there’s an emergency, I want to be able to reach my kids,” said Rewa Berry, who has four children in elementary, middle and high school.

Students should be able to carry their phones, but punishments should remain in place for students who break the rules by turning their phones on during the school day, said Abby Martin, whose three sons attend Grady.

Initial violations result in the phone being confiscated, and repeat offenders face a $50 fine.

“Within 10 minutes of the Grady shooting, we knew it was under control,” Martin said. “As a parent, it’s a great thing to know our kids are safe.”

Even during an emergency, students wouldn’t be allowed to use their phones without permission from the school.

A change in the school district’s official cellphone policy could be approved before the end of the school year, but the board discussed whether Davis could enact the change more quickly with an interim regulation.

“When looking at the Grady incident, it all flowed remarkably well,” said board member Cecily Harsch-Kinnane. “One of the things that made that a better situation than the Price situation, where we had very panicked and scared parents converging on the school … was that students were communicating with their parents.”

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