Vol 5. . . No 7 . . . May, 1995
Copyright Policy: Materials published in From Now On may be duplicated only in hard copy format for educational, non-profit school district use only. In any other case, contact the editor for permission.
There is a huge vacuum out there when it comes to Board of Education policies on student use of Internet resources. When I researched available models before drafting one for the Bellingham Public Schools, I found plenty of AUPs (acceptable use policies) but few Board policies. When I posted an offer to send Belingham's approved policy to members of LM_Net and WWWEDU, I received over 300 requests.
In basic terms, AUPs help to define acceptable behaviors by student and staff users of information systems, while Board policies take the matter much further. AUPs were designed to satisfy the regional networks most school districts join when driving onto the Electronic Highway.
Many people are unprepared for the serious values conflicts which may arise if the Board of Education remains silent. As can be seen from incredibly restrictive legislation recently introduced by the legislature in Washington, the Internet can inspire all kinds of censorship and heavy-handed regulation by groups and by individuals. The vaguer the rules in any particular district, the greater the risk that individuals will be caught up in storms of protest or moral dilemmas such as the cases mentioned below:
An eighth grader sends an explicit sexual e-mail message to his elementary teacher in a different building describing in great detail what acts he would like her to perform. Alarmed, the teacher forwards the message to you - the principal of the building. What do you do?
An elementary teacher extremely enthusiastic about the Internet encourages students to browse through the Internet during "free time." He feels 5th graders are old enough to make reasoned judgments about materials and he warns them to stay away from certain sites. One day a group of his parents descend upon your office (principal) to complain that their children have been browsing Danish pornography in the back of the classroom while the teacher corrected papers in the front of the room. Your action?
The high school principal proposes software for the library media specialist to restrict Internet access to select sites, preventing browsing and wandering. She asks the library media specialist to identify "safe" sites. The rest of the Internet will be "off bounds." You are the library media specialist. How do you respond?
9th grade student displays sexually explicit graphic to other students in library media center. She calls other students over to see what she has found - a photograph of a nude couple engaged in a sexual act. She has parent permission to do independent work with the Internet, but other students do not. As the library media specialist, you observe this. What do you do?
A basketball coach sends a raw message to her buddy in another building but accidentally copies all staff members in central office. The message contains several 4 letter words. You are her principal. What do you do?
Concerned that staff and students may be violating the district's AUP, the network administrator scans mail messages to be certain that no obscenity is passing over the network. One day she notices romantic messages between two married teachers who are clearly having an illicit affair. Troubled by what she sees as immoral behavior, she passes along her discovery to the manager of information systems, who relays it to his boss, an assistant superintendent, who passes it along to her boss, YOU, the superintendent. What do you do?
A system operator receives a death threat from a high school student full of obscene words. She contacts the high school administrators, who bring the student and parents in for a conference. The student - a highly unlikely candidate for such behavior - denies any knowledge or ownership of the note. You are the assistant principal. What do you do?
The media has devoted most of its attention to risks related to obscenity or inappropriate behavior, but there are also risks related to the quality of the information available and the haphazard way that it is organized. Finally, there are risks associated with attempts to launch surveillance efforts or restrict access. A solid Board policy addresses most or all of the following:
A. Philosophical stance
B. School/home responsibilities
C. Staff responsibilities
D. Student responsibilities
Typically, in most districts there will be a set of procedures which spell out in considerable detail how to translate into school realities the broad principles stated in the board policy. For the Internet, these would speak to program development, rules and sanctions.
The most dangerous and complicated issues arising out of Internet use are likely to create fire storms similar to library and textbook censorship situations. Ultimately, these must be resolved at a philosophical level by the Board as representative of community values. Staff members are at considerable personal risk if they take firm stands on such issues as individuals.
School use of the Internet takes on a very different flavor when students are able to display vivid graphics on the screens of their monitors. Individual use of text files, however offensive in content, was unlikely to cause much turmoil, but the monitor can act as a billboard for exciting visual material, changing the rules and the stakes of the game.
Schools typically already restrict the kinds of graphical displays permitted on student clothing. One way to handle the challenge of explicit graphics is to treat it in the same way as T-shirts. The point is that although one student may gain parent permission for independent work, that student may offend others during such research. Schools being public, the issue becomes quite complex.
For further information on board policies and the Internet, try the following:
Bellingham (WA) Board Policy
Text of Bellingham Board Policy and District Procedures - (http://www.bham.wednet.edu)
Acceptable Use Policies - A Texas Gopher file - (gopher://riceinfo.rice.edu:1170/11/More/Acceptable)
Sex, Censorship and the Internet - An excellent colection of case studies, policies and key documents such as ALA (American Library Association) statements and procedures. - (http://www.eff.org/CAF/cafuiuc.html)