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CBS12 News Investigates: Cell phone dead zones in schools

CBS12 News Investigates: Cell phone dead zones in schools(WPEC)

Many parents give their children cell phones for security, especially to take to school in case there’s an emergency.

In Parkland last year, cell phones were a lifeline for students. But in some schools in and surrounding Palm Beach County, cell phone service can be spotty.

“One friend of mine, he was hurt and I couldn’t help him because I didn’t have good reception,” said Suncoast Community High School student Camorris Peterson.

“In certain areas, down the hall towards the end of the building [service] is really bad. But once you get toward the middle it’s really good.”

CBS12 News Investigates has received multiple complaints about cell phone dead zones at Suncoast, and uncovered wireless customer complaints about dropped calls near eight other Palm Beach County Schools using a map found at DeadCellZones.com.

“It’s a massive, massive problem of people that think they should have coverage, but don’t,” said Jeff Cohn, founder of DeadCellZones.com.

Over the years, his website has collected thousands of complaints across the country. His map allows wireless users to drop pins where they’ve had problems, and describe their issues.

Cohn said it’s common to receive reports of dead zones inside of school buildings due to their location in relation to cell phone towers and the construction of their buildings.

“If you have a lot of cinderblock walls, or a lot of steel in the building, that can hinder signals from the outside working inside a classroom,” said Cohn.

After analyzing the locations of every high school and middle school in Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee, Palm Beach, and St. Lucie counties on DeadCellZones.com, we found nine schools in Palm Beach County with reports of cell phone dead zones less than one mile from campus.

Boynton Beach Community High School and Congress Middle School in Boynton Beach had several reports of T-Mobile dead zones, Jupiter Community High School in Jupiter had a Verizon dead zone nearby, Lake Worth Community High School in Lake Worth had a T-Mobile dead zone nearby, Olympic Heights Community High School in Boca Raton had a Sprint dead zone nearby, Palm Beach Gardens Community High School in Palm Beach Gardens had an ATT dead zone nearby, Palm Springs Community Middle School in Palm Springs had a Sprint dead zone nearby, Royal Palm Beach Community High School in Royal Palm Beach had a T-Mobile dead zone nearby, and Suncoast Community School had a Sprint dead zone nearby.

CBS12 News Investigates asked parents and students to perform their own tests outside of classroom hours.

One T-Mobile user at Royal Palm Beach Community High School tried to call his mother from inside a school building.

His mother provided a screen shot, showing the call failed. Another student using Sprint tried to call from South Fork High School in Martin County, but her call failed too.

School districts had varying responses to the issue of cell phone dead zones on campus.

A spokesperson for Indian River schools said “We don’t have an issue with [dead zones], in fact, we have guidelines in our code of conduct addressing cell phone use in schools by students, so they are not allowed to use their cells and make calls throughout the day.”

In Martin County, the school spokesperson said, “We aren’t aware of any ‘dead zones,’ but there is always the potential for certain buildings or locations to experience varying levels of wireless signal strength/quality. Our Educational Technology staff continuously reviews our systems and infrastructure to ensure we are offering the best wireless experience possible to our students and staff.”

A spokesperson for Okeechobee County Schools said, “We have some reported dead spots at several, but not all of our schools. The District has installed [cell phone] repeaters at every campus – we were informed that these repeaters could improve reception.” The district did not disclose where the reported dead zones were located, due to security concerns.

A spokesperson for Palm Beach County Schools said if students or staff experience issues, they should call or text using wifi. “All schools have wifi and the district has utilized a portion of the penny sales tax to make the internet infrastructure in schools more robust,” a spokesperson said. “Message and call systems that use the internet can be more reliable than cell service in some buildings.”

In St. Lucie County, the district was not aware of any reports of dead zones, but is taking proactive measures.

“Communication and having that ability is extremely important,” said St. Lucie Schools Chief Operating Officer Terence O’Leary.

He said the district has installed several cellular repeaters, which help signals penetrate through buildings designed to withstand hurricane force winds.

Their systems have several redundancies, including pervasive wifi.

O’Leary said these systems can be expensive, especially when they are installed throughout a district that has hundreds of buildings.

He said a single device, like a cell phone repeater, can cost between $10,000 and $20,000.

“We are planning to proactively make sure all of our campuses have access,” he said. “But that requires funding.”

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