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8/28/2006
03:55 PM
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Parents Send Kids Back To School With Cell Phones

Although the phones are off-limits during school hours, more children are showing up with the devices, creating a new challenge for educators.

It caught Gail McManus off guard the first time a cellular phone rang in her third-grade class at Iva Meairs Elementary School.

The eight- and nine-year old students don't always follow the Garden Grove, Calif.-school rule to turn off all cellular phone and place them in their backpacks during class time.

"Yes, parents want their kids to have a cellular phone at school for emergencies," McManus said. "But for kids, it's become their life, a connection with friends. We get too many disturbances and distractions during class. Cell phones are one more."

McManus expects more parents will send kids back to school with cellular phones when schools resume next week.

After polling 1,000 U.S. parents online, a study released Monday by Gaithersburg, Md.-based ACE*COMM Corp. found 95 percent of parents would rather they remain in control of their child's cellular-phone use, rather than have the school set the rules, citing safety and scheduling concerns.

Ninety-nine percent of the parents who participated in the survey conducted in August want communications to remain open during the day in case of an emergency. And, 84 percent of parents want their child to have a cellular phone during school hours to maneuver around any schedule changes that may arise.

Connie Patin-Rodriguez has three boys, ages seven, 11 and 13, who attend three different schools located throughout Downey, Calif. The two eldest have cellular phones.

With three boys, the days are filled with baseball practice and other sports. "I run from school to school, and if I'm running late I need to let them know," she said. "The reason my oldest son wants a cell phone is completely different from mine. He wants to be able to text with his friends."

Parents say it gives them peace of mind to know they can communicate with their children at any time, but it's not acceptable for kids to text message their friends during class.

"The13-year old is going to sneak the text messages during class," Patin-Rodriguez said. "I can go online to T-Mobile and check to see if he's text-messaged anyone this morning."

In the past, Patin-Rodriguez has taken away the phone from her 13-year old, but "that only hurts me because I can't find him after school."

Software from Gaithersburg, Md.-based ACE*COMM called Parent Patrol would enable parents to put restrictions on their child's phone use by setting boundaries on numbers called, time of day, number of minutes used, and services accessed.

Although parents want their children to have access to cellular phones at school, they aren't blind to the distractions the devices can create in the classroom. According to the ACE*COMM survey, 66 percent are concerned their children overuse text messaging or cell phones instead of focusing on school or homework.

Parents also worry their kids will use cellular phones to cheat at school. Thirty-nine percent of parents who have boys are concerned about cheating on tests by text messaging or cell phone, compared with 31 percent of parents with girls.

Parent Patrol also features options to block mobile access to inappropriate content such as pornography.

ACE*COMM said Parent Patrol will roll out in North America this fall with select carriers. Trials are being conducted with some carriers in Asia and Europe, too.

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