Minnesota Student Challenges Schools’ Vague Internet Policy


A Minnesota teenager recently wrote a first-person article pertaining to his current digital privacy struggle with his school and saw his case reach a national stage through the online magazine BoingBoing.

Nathan Ringo arrived at school this year to begin his junior year at Wayzata high school.  Students were to report to the campus to have their photos taken for school IDs, get their school schedules, and, for the first time ever, receive their new iPads.

Once he began to read the privacy agreement the school was asking him to sign in order to receive his iPad, he said he realized the school was asking students to give up their right to privacy without providing them a reason for doing so, writes Beth Hawkins for the MinnPost.

“I was the only person reading it and I just realized, Hey, we’re supposed to have the right to privacy,” Ringo recalls. “Under the [U.S.] Supreme Court case Katz vs. United States, which we actually learned about in school, in civics and government — we just call it civics.”

According to the 1967 ruling, the government cannot use evidence gathered from wiretapping public phones.

Ringo continued his argument by saying the privacy agreement “was broad and really ambiguous.”

“Like on the [Internet] filter, it had a clause on the filter that was worded ‘should block obscene and objectionable things.’ Objectionable according to who?  Objectionable is hugely subjective,” he adds, reeling off examples. “Something that’s objectionable to me could be humorous to someone else, and vice versa.”

Ringo already had a reputation with school staff for being a digital agitator after having challenged the school’s internet filters the year before.  When an administrator saw him reading the contract aloud to the other students, he was pulled out of line and asked to leave the building.

Ringo then received an email from the district’s technology department telling him he no longer had Internet privileges at the school for “hacker talk,” and that his school account had been closed, shutting him out of a variety of in-class assignments, homework and class research.

While Ringo continues to stay in “digital limbo,” he has spent his time looking into what information the district is interested in collecting, and in what ways they intend on using the data.

“They don’t actually have anything that says what they are gathering, which is actually more troubling,” Ringo says. “Because they can gather anything but they don’t say what they actually have gathered.”

Earlier this year, the news showcased the school when it opted out of the federal lunch program after participation in the program fell 9% the previous year.  Despite the additional 25 cents that each student pays per meal, and the loss of federal funding, the school says it is seeing positive results.  “We’re seeing increases between two and three hundred lunches a day,” said Mary Anderson, the supervisor of the Culinary Express Department for Wayzata Schools.

Only the high school has opted out of the program, where student athletes need the additional calories and students tend to be pickier eaters.

The school also found time in the spotlight when it told about a dozen boys at the school they could no longer wear overalls.  While overalls themselves are not against school rules, the boys wore them in order to identify themselves as part of a club known as “The Hard Hats,” that the school has been working to ban.

While the group is not an official school group, they have existed as an upbeat school spirit group for the past 20 years, and appear to have the support of parents.  However, according to the school principal the group has gotten too rowdy lately.  No “next step” for the group has been announced.

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