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School Board Rethinks Student Internet Use Amendment

The proposed amendment drew response from the American Civil Liberties Union regarding students' rights to privacy.

The Fairfield school board's policy committee will have to revise a proposed amendment to the district's Internet use policy after it sparked response from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The committee was tasked with revising the Internet use policy to comply with changes in the state's Child Internet Policy Act regarding first-degree harassment via the Internet.

The proposed policy revision aims to -- through the use of filtering controls on the district's network -- "protect [the district's] students from exposure to Internet materials that are harmful, inappropriate, or explicit," according to the document.

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But there is one clause that the ACLU fears will violate students' constitutional rights to privacy:

"Digital storage and electronic devices used for school purposes, whether district or personally owned, will be treated as district technology resources. Therefore, all students must be aware that they should not have any expectation of personal privacy in the use of these resources."

Because the district allows students to bring and use Internet-accessing devices to school -- laptops, smartphones, iPads, e-readers, etc. -- the policy committee wanted to make sure the amendment covered any devices that could use the district's network.

The amendment, should it have passed at Tuesday's board meeting, would have allowed district officials to search and seize students' personal devices to determine if a student accessed the district's network to view inappropriate content or to harass another individual.

But the Board of Education received a letter from David McGuire, an attorney from the Connecticut chapter of the ACLU, after the proposed amendment was reported on in the Fairfield Citizen in September.

In the letter, McGuire warned that, "this sweeping characterization will not survive scrutiny under the United States Constitution because it ignores the Fourth Amendment rights of students or anyone else with a privacy interest in the device and the information contained on it," the Fairfield Citizen reported.

At Tuesday's meeting, the three members of the policy committee (Jennifer Maxon Kennelly, John Convertito, and Paul Fattibene) discussed the issue with the rest of the board.

"The ACLU understood the need for such a policy," Kennelly said, but the board agreed that clause may have crossed a line.

"It's the trade-off for allowing students to bring devices to school," board member Tim Kery said. "We need to find the balance, to protect the network form being degraded or used against others."

The board voted to remand the policy back to the committee level for Kennelly, Fattibene, and Convertito to revise before bringing it back for a vote at a later meeting.

"The policy may have gotten specific," member Sue Brand said. "The danger is where we draw the line."

Josh Albin October 10, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Couldn't this problem be solved by just not allowing personal laptops and tablets in the schools?
Stephen Krauchick October 10, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Yea, let them use an Abacus like Josh did in school.
steve sheppard October 10, 2012 at 07:24 PM
There are computer centers in the schools, computers that are furnished by the school system. So is there a need for personal computers and tablets being brought into the schools? Just asking.....
Josh Albin October 11, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Mr. Krauchick, I graduated from Fairfield Warde High School in 2005. I never needed a personal laptop or tablet as there is plenty of computer access in the library and computer labs. Get your facts straight or maybe make a factual point in the future.
something to think about October 11, 2012 at 09:21 PM
@ Josh Albin -- Aren't we preparing the majority of our students for college and all of our students for life in the 21st century? If so, most college students take notes on laptops or tablets and almost everyone uses an electronic device in the 21st century. Why not train our students to get used to the technology that they will be using when they enter "the real world," and let them use the technology that many of them already have in the high school school setting. Oh, and a lot has happened in the world of technology since you graduated in 2005. For instance, tablets didn't exist then, the cost of laptops has fallen dramatically since then, and the iPhone wasn't introduced until 2007.
Josh Albin October 12, 2012 at 01:42 PM
Good question. I agree with you that we do need to prepare students to be able to use technology. I don't think any of my comments said we shouldn't let them use it either. What I've said is that the schools offer enough to sufficiently meet student needs, and I don't see a need for high school students to have personal laptops and tablets. A lot has changed since 2005. But if you don't mind me sharing I still have daily experience with the use of technology in classrooms. Im currently in law school and have professors with differing views on laptops and tablets being used in class. Some allow them because they believe they can be helpful, while others don't because they believe them to be a distraction. Both sides are correct, but I would tend to agree with the latter. In my classes where electronic devices are allowed less than a third of the students using them are using them to enhance their learning. The majority are either emailing, on facebook, playing games, g-chat (you get the point). Its not simply a loss to their learning, but it becomes a loss to those sitting around them because it becomes distracting when someone is watching something on youtube during class. Technology is great and in many ways it can enhance our learning if used properly...
Josh Albin October 12, 2012 at 01:47 PM
For example I have the option to take all my exams on my personal laptop (there is software you install that locks your computer and only runs the exam program), which is extremely beneficial to writing long essays. When I can I use my laptop or tablet to have the powerpoint slides the professor is using directly in front of me, or take notes easier. Despite I'm not sure that students are harmed in high school by not being able to have a personal laptop or tablet with them. The majority of the learning in high school, college and graduate school comes from your text books and lessons/lectures from your teacher/professor.
Pat Milton October 17, 2012 at 07:55 AM
My son uses a computer on which I've installed a free parental control app called Qustodio. It blocks the harmful content automatically and so even if he takes it somewhere, I know he is safe. However, I actually desist from allowing him to do so most of the times. Schools should also not allow this practice.

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