Tony had a segment a few weeks ago regarding a new “sexting” policy in Troy. In short, Troy schools adopted a policy that allows school officials to search a student’s cell phone or other electronic device if the official has a “reasonable suspicion” that the device contains sexually explicit material. Specifically, the policy forbids
“sending, sharing viewing or merely possessing sexually explicit digital pictures, messages, text messages, emails or other material of a sexual nature in electronic form or other form on a computer, cell phone or other electronic device” while on school property or while attending school-sponsored events.
Here’s Tony’s segment:
I think this policy is a necessary and ethical step for the school. Here’s why:
K-12 schools act “in loco parentis,” or, “in place of a parent.” Schools have the right and responsibility to take on some of the parental role while the student is in the care of the school. As such the school has the authority to search for sexually explicit material if there is “reasonable suspicion” of such. This is different from a minor child “sexting” while in a public library, for example. The school has special privileges when it comes to acting in the best interests of the child. These privileges extend to the search of personal property that is on school grounds when there is reasonable suspicion of harmful activity.
Schools are eligible to receive federal dollars through the E-Rate program, which is (put simply) the federal government’s attempt to bridge the digital divide and give Internet / communications access to all schools regardless of school budget. In order to be eligible for E-Rate funding schools must abide by CIPA – Children’s Internet Protection Act. From the CIPA page:
Schools and libraries subject to CIPA may not receive the discounts offered by the E-rate program unless they certify that they have an Internet safety policy that includes technology protection measures. The protection measures must block or filter Internet access to pictures that are: (a) obscene; (b) child pornography; or (c) harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors). Before adopting this Internet safety policy, schools and libraries must provide reasonable notice and hold at least one public hearing or meeting to address the proposal.
Schools subject to CIPA have two additional certification requirements: 1) their Internet safety policies must include monitoring the online activities of minors; and 2) as required by the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act, they must provide for educating minors about appropriate online behavior, including interacting with other individuals on social networking websites and in chat rooms, and cyberbullying awareness and response.
An argument can be made that the only way to be fully compliant with CIPA is to implement a policy such as Troy’s new policy.
A rebuttal to the CIPA argument may be that a cell phone or a device with built in data connectivity can access the Internet through its own connection, thus bypassing the school network. However an enterprise wireless system is almost always going to be faster and more stable than a cell phone connection. People will connect to the wireless if it is available. In fact many devices will default to the wireless if such a network is found.
There’s an argument that the school should just ban the devices, rather than search them. It’s a good point that I would support if not for the trend in educational technology. Students are being encouraged to bring their own devices to school. Or at least they are being encouraged to use personal devices. Run a quick Google of “BYOD” (bring your own device), “private cloud,” or “1 to 1 initiative.” All of these concepts relate to students accessing a school network on their devices, or on personal devices deployed by the school. Add in the new “flipped classroom” initiative and you see why these personal devices are becoming increasingly relevant to learning. It isn’t just about texting friends anymore; it’s about consuming and creating content as part of the curriculum.
Mind you, if it was up to me, I’d raise taxes to fund the distribution of devices at each school. Leave your cell phones and ipads in the car; we’re giving you the device we want you to use. It has all of your textbooks and you can access your apps and did we mention that it’s the only device you have that is authorized to access our network? At that point everything becomes easier. Schools can ban personal devices, or keep them in the office until the end of the day, if the parent wants the student to carry a phone. Tech support is easier because everyone is on the same device, which can be configured to use the network and the Internet in a pre-determined standard. And no more rooms filled with textbooks that are sitting there waiting for the next year.
(Remember that House Dems iPod moment? Yeah, I was in favor of the iPods. We would have been beyond this by now.)
The one issue I have with the policy is this language:
“All evidence and electronic devices shall be turned-over to the appropriate law enforcement agency, and will not be retained by the district.”
I suppose they had to include that language, in case they come across something illegal such as kiddie porn. But it strikes me as an intimidation tactic. It just doesn’t sit well with me.
Overall I’m in favor of the policy. I’m sure we’ll see more schools struggling with this in the future.