This blog was originally published on November 13, 2014. It was updated and re-published on August 6, 2018.
With the advent of social media as a way to communicate and the ever-evolving development of technology in society and in the classroom, school boards and school leadership are being faced with challenges with how to craft and regulate policies.
At the center of the debate are student privacy and the rights of students and what adults in public school systems face when it comes to regulating use.
Recently, a school board in Wisconsin hosted a meeting with residents to discuss technology use of the Sauk Prairie School District students. The main issues brought up regarded the ways in which districts could monitor and curb students’ usages of technology and social media.
A current policy allows school officials to randomly and without cause confiscate and search through any electronic devices utilized on school property, including students’ personal devices. Additionally, computers in classrooms are under the microscope and have been for some time, as boards of education have the ultimate responsibility of overseeing computer network use in schools, thus ensuring that student use coincides with the limited purpose of bolstering education.
But while schools and districts must protect students’ online use and computer integrity, they also have to protect themselves from liability on two levels:
School districts can install filtering software and blocking devices, but there will always be issues regarding censorship and the question of whether the devices satisfy the requirement that restrictions on free speech be customized to fit. The argument here directs to freedom of speech and if schools are in fact disrupting students’ first and fourth amendment rights, protected by law.
The line between protecting students from harmful material or spam and protecting the integrity of a district or board is becoming finer and finer, and in some cases harder to distinguish.
Even if the use of electronic devices is upheld, schools still have to justify why certain sites or even keyword phrases are being blocked. To protect school boards and districts, there are options to handle liability issues with educator’s insurance coverage. This essential policy can help defend educational entities, educators and volunteers. These policies can be customize to fit the needs of public and private schools.
Professional Governmental Underwriters, Inc., is a full-service risk management company dedicated to assisting public, educational and non-profit entities in the management of their professional liability exposures. We are dedicated to providing state-of-the-art professional underwriting management and loss control advisory services on behalf of our designated carriers. For more information, call us toll-free at (800) 586-6502.