ACLU Urges Bexley School District to Rethink Restrictive Internet Policy

Affiliate: ACLU of Ohio
April 16, 2013 10:39 am

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Policy Limits Free Speech and Privacy for Students and Teachers

April 16, 2013

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COLUMBUS, OH – The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sent a letter to the Bexley School District yesterday, urging school officials to rethink their Internet policy authorizing the search and seizure of private electronic devices for any reason, or no reason at all.

“This policy does not just restrict the constitutional rights of students and teachers, it eliminates many of them altogether,” said ACLU of Ohio Staff Attorney Drew Dennis. “Under the current policy, students and teachers have zero electronic free speech or privacy expectations if they want to connect to the school’s taxpayer-funded network.”

“When you consider the crucial role this kind of network plays in a modern education, the policy is essentially mandatory,” added Dennis. “It is hard to imagine that a student with no access to online learning will receive an equal education tomorrow, let alone in ten years. And the only way to access these resources is to sign away your rights.”

Under the Bexley policy, school officials claim the authority to seize and search privately owned electronic devices, even though much of the data within these devices was not generated during school hours.

“It is nearly impossible to separate the data generated during school from the data generated on the owner’s private time, said Dennis. “If school officials may search a device on demand, they may have access to a host of personal information or protected free speech. You should not have to give a government institution that level of access in order to provide, or receive, a quality education.”

The Bexley policy also requires students and teachers to submit to “device identifying” features that allow school officials to discover not only what is being said privately, but also who is saying it.

“This provision nearly guarantees a chilling effect on any form of electronic expression,” said Dennis. “And again, once they have the device, it is next to impossible to separate out the data gathered during school; so they claim authority over everything.”

“The rights of students and teachers do not disappear when they connect to their school network,” said Dennis. “This policy ignores that fact.”

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