In a recent decision, the first federal appellate court to address the rights of school officials to search student cell phones held that a student’s violation of a school rule regarding technology did not justify a general search of the student’s cell phone by Kentucky school district employees. The case is an important reminder to school leaders that they can search student technology in certain circumstances, but they must respect the fine line between a justifiable search and a search that violates a student’s constitutional rights.
The case, G.C. v. Owensboro Public Schools, dealt with a student, G.C., who was involved in a string of disciplinary incidents and had communicated to school officials that he was suicidal. During his freshman year, school officials searched G.C.’s phone after an incident where he walked out of a meeting with a prevention coordinator, left the school building without permission, made a phone call to his father in the parking lot and was found in the parking lot with tobacco products in plain view. The school official who searched the phone cited concerns that the student was going to harm himself as a basis for conducting the search.
That fall, at the beginning of his sophomore year, G.C. violated the school cell phone policy by using his phone to send text messages during class. His teacher confiscated the phone and delivered it to another administrator. The administrator read four text messages on the phone in an effort to see if there was evidence that he was going to harm himself. Although no evidence of misconduct was found on the phone, G.C., who was attending the school as an out-of-district student, was told that he had lost his privileges to attend Owensboro High School because of his behavior.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, addressed a number of issues in its decision, including whether the school district was required to provide G.C. a hearing before telling him he could not attend the high school (it was) and whether the school discriminated against him based on Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (it did not). But the most interesting element of the decision dealt with whether the school officials were justified in searching the student’s cell phone.
As schools increase the use of technology to communicate with and about students, questions arise about the intersection between the data created and student records laws, such as the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). States also have similar laws that may provide greater protections than their federal counterpart. Are emails, texts, Tweets, and other digital communications between teachers, administrators, parents, and students “educational records” under FERPA and related state laws?
Let’s address the following questions: (1) Why does it matter? (2) Are digital communications student records? and (3) How do I respond to a broad student records request for digital communications? (more…)
Each Tuesday the #Edchat hashtag brings together educators from across the globe to discuss education-related topics on Twitter. (For those wondering “What is #Edchat,” one of the founders describes the movement here.) Last week one of the questions on #Edchat was “How do we train educators to teach in programs like BYOD and 1:1?” The chat was timely because the Internet is abuzz with questions about whether BYOD programs and 1:1 programs have a place in the classroom. BYOD programs are programs through which schools tell students “bring your own devices” to the classroom for pedagogical use, and 1:1 programs are programs through which schools equip each student with a school-owned electronic device for school-related use.
As the transcript shows, there was a lively conversation with hundreds of Tweets discussing the benefits of BYOD and 1:1 programs. For instance, participants pointed out that BYOD and 1:1 programs allow technology to be more seamlessly integrated into the classroom in ways the traditional computer lab never allows. Participants also noted that use of technology in the classroom can help turn students from “tech comfy” to “tech savvy.” (The idea is described more here.)
The participants also pointed out some of the risks of BYOD and 1:1 programs. As one participant put it, “Moving forward with 1:1 without preparing teachers properly creates school culture and pedagogical problems.” But there are also important legal risks, and school districts should not move forward with BYOD or 1:1 programs without preparing educators to understand those risks, as well. I pointed this out in a few Tweets, and was asked by some participants to provide some resources about those legal risks.
I was excited to speak to an engaged group of school leaders this past Friday at TechCon 2012. For those unfamiliar, TechCon is an annual conference that focuses on issues of technology in education and that is hosted and sponsored by the Illinois Association of School Business Officials (IASBO), the Illinois Chief Technology Officers (ILCTO), and Illinois Computing Educators. I participated in a panel discussion with Thomas Zelek of Elmwood Park CUSD 401 and Bill Spakowski of Single Path, LLC about social media policies. We addressed a number of interesting issues including whether school districts should have a social media policy at all, the implications of the recent Illinois Facebook Password law, and – a little off topic but interesting nonetheless – student discipline for off-campus, online misconduct. Over the next few weeks, I will blog on these issues and specifically on the topics we discussed at the conference. (more…)
The Illinois Association of School Administrators recently alerted followers on Twitter (@IllinoisASA) to an interesting blog entry by Eric Lai for UberMobile entitled “Four Reasons Why School Tablet Rollouts Can Stumble – Or Fail.” In the blog, Lai explains why even the best technology can’t overcome poor planning and lack of follow-through when it comes to 1:1 technology programs in schools. The entry is timely in light of national news that Apple’s iPad is overtaking PC sales in schools and local news of schools swapping textbooks for tablet computers/laptops (examples here and here).
Lai’s entry hits the mark with respect to technological and pedagogical issues that schools may face. Yet, school leaders should also consider potential legal challenges when implementing 1:1 technology programs in schools.
Here are just a few of the issues about which school leaders should keep alert:
Filtering or Blocking
Technology that students take home with them is subject to the same monitoring requirements applicable to technology within a school. For example, the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which applies to schools that receive universal service (“E-rate”) discounts, would apply to tablet and laptop computers sent home with a student just as it does to computers in a school’s library.
School leaders should consider carefully how to balance the need to monitor students on district issued technology with any rights of privacy that the students may claim. Although privacy concerns might not be as sensational as this webcam spying case from 2010, schools should work carefully to strike the right balance with 1:1 technology issued to students.
Illinois requires that public schools provide fee waivers to eligible students for essential materials like textbooks (here is a summary provided by ISBE). Even in states without such provisions, schools should take steps to ensure that any fee policies for required 1:1 technology (such as deposits for use of a tablet and insurance premiums for a laptop) are not out of reach for students whose parents lack the means to pay for them.
By both following the technological and pedagogical advice from Lai’s blog and carefully planning ahead with legal counsel regarding legal issues, school leaders can set up their 1:1 programs for success from all angles.