Anne Arundel County students will be allowed to bring cellular telephones and pagers into school, but they must keep them turned off during the school day, under a policy expected to be approved by the Board of Education next week.
The proposed policy would end the decade-long prohibition of carrying phones and pagers on school grounds.
The policy aims to balance the wishes of parents - who feel safer knowing their children can reach them - with the demands of teachers who don't want their classes disrupted.
Parents and educators - along with several board members - applauded the policy yesterday.
"In these times, with so many things changing, it makes parents feel a little more secure," said Kathy Wayson, whose daughter attends Southern Middle School in Lothian.
"For emergency situations, when a child has to reach a parent, it's good for them to have the phone - as long as it's not abused," said Cynthia Johnston, who has two children at Crofton Woods Elementary School.
Under the policy, all students from kindergarten through 12th grade would be allowed to keep cellular telephones in their backpacks or lockers. However, they could not be turned on during the school day or at after-school instructional activities, such as SAT prep classes.
The phones could be turned on and used at other after-school activities and athletic events, said Synthia Shilling, the school system's lawyer.
Shilling drafted the policy after the General Assembly repealed a law that banned cellular telephones and pagers in state schools.
The repeal, effective Oct. 1, means that most local school systems are free to craft their policies.
Montgomery County approved a policy this week allowing only high school students to carry telephones, as long as they are turned off.
Howard County, like Anne Arundel, allows all students to carry telephones, but they can't use them until the school day ends.
The state prohibition remains in effect for Baltimore City and Baltimore County, plus six Eastern Shore counties, at the request of the delegations from those jurisdictions.
Some Anne Arundel County parents, who are often juggling jobs and their children's after-school activities, said cell phones will help them keep up with their kids.
"They're useful for after-school activities, so they don't get separated from their parents, or if they're parents are running late to pick them up," said Johnston, the Crofton parent.
Johnston and other parents said they insist that the telephones remain off during the school day.
"It would be extremely disruptive to have four or five kids on the phone when teachers are trying to maintain order and get information," said Pam Spearman, who has a child at Benfield Elementary School in Severna Park.
School board member Vaughn Brown said he hasn't decided if he will vote for the policy.
"Certainly we're living in the 21st century, and lots of people are used to having constant accessibility, but I'm not sure that's what we need for our children in school," Brown said. "I can imagine lots of ways in which that would be distracting and disruptive to the educational process."
Other board members said they support the policy, as long as ways exist to deal with offenders.
Janet Bury, a board member who teaches at Morgan State University, said the policy in her classes has worked well.
"I tell them that if it goes off, it's mine," she said. "They haven't tested me."