THE old school bell is facing some high-tech competition from students carrying beepers - often to keep in touch with their drug suppliers. With the high-pitched tone of the paging devices disrupting classrooms and aiding the sale of drugs in schools, the Texas Legislature is considering a ban on students carrying the devices as they go about learning the three R's.
Use of beepers by students as young as elementary-school-age to keep tabs on their drug trade is not limited to Texas, but the state is believed to be the first to consider banning student use. Houston and Dallas have already enacted such bans.
``The kids are using them just like the business people do,'' says Brad Patterson, a Fort Worth police officer and vice-president of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas. ``Usually there's some kind of code to it, where one number means something like, `Some stuff has come in,' or another saying something like, `Meet me for a pickup by the Coke machine outside the boys' locker room.'
``Some students keep them in their lockers, and you can hear them going off as you walk down the halls,'' he adds.
Use of the devices for drug dealing has increased dramatically in the past few years and is getting worse, Mr. Patterson says.
Not all the beepers found in schools are tied to drugs. Some students were starting to carry them because they were fashionable, or as a means of keeping in touch with friends, according to Janet Skinner, principal of Hillcrest High School in Dallas, where carrying the devices has been banned all year. She says that out of the 10 beepers called to her attention since they started showing up at school a year ago, only one appeared to be drug related.
``It's a very, very small percentage of the students in the first place,'' Dr. Skinner says, ``but any percentage at all is too high when you want to keep the schools absolutely drug free.''