All Atlanta students can soon carry phones to school

All Atlanta grade schoolers can soon pack cellphones with their books and No. 2 pencils.

Deputy Superintendent Karen Waldon told principals that elementary and middle school students will be allowed to bring cellphones to school if they have written permission from their parents and keep them turned off during the school day, Atlanta Public Schools spokesman Stephen Alford said on Tuesday. High school students already have cellphone privileges.

Atlanta Board of Education members wanted to relax cellphone restrictions following last month’s shooting at Grady High School, when parents called their children to make sure they were unharmed. A 17-year-old girl shot herself in the leg Feb. 27, and no one else was injured.

“It was suggested that the Grady situation was much more contained and smooth because the children had access to their phones and could assure their parents that they were fine,” board member Yolanda Johnson said at a policy committee meeting Tuesday.

Even during emergencies, students would only be allowed to turn on their cellphones if they have permission from a teacher or an APS employee, according to the proposed policy.

Verdaillia Turner, president of the Atlanta Federation of Teachers, said adding more cellphones to schools creates another disciplinary burden on teachers.

“It’s a major distraction and it’s one more thing we’ll have to deal with as teachers that prevents us from doing our job of providing an education,” Turner said.

Cellphones will be confiscated from students who use them without permission. Repeat violations will result in a $50 fine.

The school district plans to issue a memo this week about the new cellphone rules, Alford said. Students could then receive permission carry them to school soon afterward.