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Local News

Santa Barbara School Board Bans Use Of Cell Phones On All Campuses

Board members, however, once again postpone voting on a controversial dress-code proposal aimed at squelching the gang look.

Santa Barbara High School student Michelle Murchison regularly uses her cell phone to coordinate rides home from school. (Rob Kuznia photo / Noozhawk)

The Santa Barbara School Board on Tuesday night banned the use of cell phones on all campuses, meaning students must keep them in their backpacks or pockets until the dismissal bell rings.

The 3-2 vote actually bans the use of all electronic devices during the school day, and so includes another popular student gadget: the MP3 player, such as an iPod.

Voting against the ban were board members Annette Cordero and Laura Malakoff, who said the policy is unenforceable and unreasonable.

“During lunchtime, I can’t imagine we would want to have teachers walking around making sure all cell phones are turned off,” Cordero said. “And if we don’t do that, it becomes a meaningless rule, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to knowingly adopt meaningless rules.”

But board members Kate Parker, Nancy Harter and Bob Noel disagreed, and voted in favor of the rule with little discussion – although Parker did say she believes that schools should be encouraging students to interact more with one another.

The vote was part of a larger package of proposed discipline guidelines and dress-code rules. However, for the second consecutive meeting, the board on Tuesday night postponed voting on two related matters:

• a controversial dress-code proposal aimed at eradicating the gang look.

• relaxing the rules on drug-and-alcohol abuse to include an extra step of rehabilitation before exercising the option to expel (or changing the two-strikes policy to three strikes).

On the dress-code issue, the board is agonizing over how to walk the fine line between rooting out dangerous behaviors before they become problematic, and singling out certain students because of their appearance.

The proposal calls for barring plain white T-shirts “when worn in combination with another black or blue T-shirt,” because, at least locally, white and blue signify gang colors. It also calls for doing away with, among other things, knee-length socks when worn with long shorts; sagging or oversized pants; and haircuts, jewelry or accessories denoting membership in a gang.

The most outspoken critic on the board was Cordero, who took umbrage with several aspects of the proposal, among them the part about haircuts.

Michael Gonzalez, the director of compliance and the administrator presenting the proposal, said gang members tend to wear their hair extremely short.

To this, Cordero said her own sons wore short hair in high school, and were not remotely affiliated with gangs. “It’s a style that is very common to a lot of students, and a lot of athletes – that is why they did it,” she said.

Cordero was also troubled by how Gonzalez said the dress code would be enforced only when the forbidden attire accompanied certain behaviors. “I do have some concerns about a policy that is going to be applied to some students and not others,” she said.

Cordero went on to criticize the proposal more broadly, saying it might simply make a disaffected population of students feel even more so.

“ I grew up on the east side of Santa Barbara, and I don’t have a lot of objections to what (the students who live there) look like,” she said. “I feel like potentially my own family members could be targeted by this.”

For his part, Gonzalez said the rules are providing more tools to administrators to deal with the city’s ongoing problem of gang violence. He mentioned that just last week, the Santa Barbara police chief held a press conference in which he announced the arrest of seven males in connection with the 2007 murder of a 16-year-old gang member downtown. It was the second of two gang-related teen murders that year. Three of the arrested males were juveniles.

“We continue to operate in a high-risk environment,” he said.

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