The American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are up in arms over a social media policy currently in place at Williamson County School in Tennessee that the two groups say stifles student rights.
The groups claim the policy violates the constitutional rights of its students because it allows officials to search through any electronic devices brought into school “at any time” regardless of whether or not school officials believe there is a reasonable cause to do so, as well as to control what students post on social media sites. The school is also allowed to monitor any communications sent through or stored on the school’s server, meaning officials have the right to read student emails.
The policy is intended to “protect students and adults from obscene information,” “restrict access to materials that are harmful to minors,” and protect the school from malware.
However, because of the broad statements used, the groups say the policy is in violation of the First and Fourth Amendments and that it displays “a fundamental misunderstanding of the constitutional rights” of its students.
The groups also have issue with the punishments for not complying with the policy, which include “loss of network privileges, confiscation of computer equipment, suspension … and/or criminal prosecution.” Not allowing students access to computers and Internet needed for schoolwork denies them their constitutional right to an equal education.
In a letter sent to the Williamson County Board of Education, the groups ask for a change to its current policy, citing the experience shared by parent Daniel Pomerantz, whose 5-year-old daughter was not allowed to use school computers until he had signed an agreement to the policy.
“The first time they were using the computers [in her classroom], they told her she had to go sit aside and do something else and she started to cry and complain,” Pomerantz told WIRED. “It was not a pleasant experience as a family. They told her it was all because of me, that [because] I wouldn’t do this was why she couldn’t learn on computers with all the other students.”
The letter suggested that the policy violated students’ rights to off-campus speech by requiring permission from a teacher prior to posting any photographs of other students or teachers on a social media site regardless of where or when that photo was taken.
The policy affects all 35,000 students in the districts’ 41 schools.
WCS Superintendent Mike Looney issued the following statement in response to the letter:
“The district received a letter from an ACLU attorney today requesting modification of the Acceptable Use, Media Release, and Internet Safety Procedures. Our attorneys are reviewing the request. The district remains committed to protecting the constitutional rights of our students while maintaining a safe and secure learning environment for them.”