Board pulls Internet policy change after ACLU critique
Updated 11:37 am, Friday, October 12, 2012
The Board of Education has decided to take another look at proposed changes to its student Internet use policy in the face of complaints that the revisions would violate the constitutional rights of students and their parents.
The proposal declared that personally owned computers and other electronic devices used for school work would be considered school district resources and students should have no expectation of privacy.
The Connecticut chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union objected, saying the policy would violate the Fourth Amendment right to privacy.
At a meeting Tuesday, school board member Paul Fattibene -- who sits on the Policy Committee that drafted the changes -- recommended the revised policy be sent back to the committee to "maybe tweak it to some extent" to change the language so that it would "least likely have a constitutional issue."
Fattibene spoke with David McGuire, an ACLU staff lawyer who wrote to the school board objecting to the proposal.
The Policy Committee may not be able to address all of the ACLU's concerns, he said, but there may be some areas in the revision where it could be more careful not to have a "very contested policy" that would not pass a constitutional review.
"That may be better in the long run, I think, to make a stronger policy to avoid some of these issues," said Fattibene, who is a patent attorney.
The board had been scheduled to vote on the revised policy at its Tuesday meeting, but instead voted 7-2 in favor of sending it back to the committee after receiving a letter from the ACLU's Connecticut chapter. Kennelly, who also spoke with McGuire, and board member Jessica Gerber voted against it.
In his letter, McGuire asked the board to reject a proposed amendment to the 2004 policy that reads: "Digital storage and electronic devices used for school purposes, whether district or personally owned, will be treated as district technology resources. Therefore, all students must be aware that they should not have any expectation of personal privacy in the use of these resources."
The letter, sent after ACLU officials read a Fairfield Citizen story about the proposed revision, said the amendment will "lead to violations of privacy rights" guarded by the Fourth Amendment. It also said it "broadly classifies any electronic device used by the students for school purposes `as district technology resources' with no privacy protection."
Deputy Superintendent of Schools Karen Parks said the new language, based on a model from the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, was taken from several other school districts' policies allowing search and seizure of Internet use where students are not allowed to bring their own devices to school.
The committee included language in the proposed policy revision addressing the use of personal devices to prepare for "Bring Your Own Device," a program piloted at schools across the nation, but the association has no policy on that because it has not had a "test case" for that yet, Parks said.
Board member Tim Kery said the policy needs to be written to strike a "balance" between respecting the right to privacy and giving school employees the right to seize a device being used to degrade the district's network or gain access to private information.
The board also delayed discussions on eliminating a parallel student Internet use policy at the recommendation of the association, which considers them to be "redundant policies," according to Parks.
The committee recently revised this policy at public meetings by adding an amendment similar to the one in the other policy that the ACLU has asked the board to reject.
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