NEW YORK – Can you hear me now?
That's what parents, students and lawmakers who want a school cell phone ban lifted asked Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration at a city council hearing Wednesday, but the city is refusing to budge.
Three high school students were among those who argued against the ban.
Sophomore Seth Pearce noted wryly during his testimony: "All three of us have cell phones right now in City Hall, and it seems to me the city is running just fine."
The prohibition on cell phones in the nation's biggest school system has been in place for years, but students have mostly carried the phones without consequence.
When the city began random security checks in late April as part of a weapons crackdown, authorities began finding — and confiscating — hundreds of cell phones, prompting a fierce battle over the ban.
New York schools have one of the toughest such bans among the nation's large districts, but similar debates have bubbled up in school systems elsewhere.
In New York, parents and students insist the right to carry mobile phones is a matter of safety — they must be able to get in touch at any hour of the day for emergencies.
They have written letters, staged rallies and repeatedly called the mayor's weekly radio show to demand that he reconsider.
No chance, says the mayor.
Bloomberg, the former chief executive of a financial information company, has a certain obsession with technology and communications — he and his aides are never without their BlackBerries — but he has a similar fixation on efficiency and order.
He says cell phones are disruptive in schools, where students can use them to cheat on exams, take inappropriate photos and waste time chatting and text messaging instead of learning.
The City Council took up the dispute even though it is not clear whether it has much say on the matter. While the school system of 1.1 million students is under the mayor's management, it is regulated by the state.
Still, council members have introduced legislation that would guarantee parents the right to provide their children with cell phones to carry to and from school, and prohibit anyone from interfering with that right.
The council appears to have enough votes to override a likely mayoral veto, but the bill's supporters acknowledged that the point of the Wednesday hearing was not necessarily to push the law, but rather to nudge a compromise.
While some lawmakers cried that the mayor had "drawn a line in the sand" and warned they were prepared to "stage a battle" and go to court, others said they are hopeful that all sides could work it out.
"I would like to change this policy with the mayor, not over the mayor," Councilman Lewis Fidler said.
But the Bloomberg administration shows no room for compromise. Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott described the policy as "non-negotiable."