I don’t like my district’s AUP

Last night was Family Night at my kids’ elementary school. You know, that night when you visit your kid’s class with the other parents, learn about the curriculum and teacher expectations for the year, sit in little tiny chairs, etc.

Each parent was asked to sign the district’s Digital Resources Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) for the 2008-2009 school year. Not a single parent read over the AUP; everyone just signed it blindly. Except me, of course. I combed through it because, as a former attorney and technology guy, I want to know what I’m signing on behalf of my fifth-grade daughter. Here’s the part that troubled me:

The following guidelines for digital citizenship apply for all students in grades 3-12:

Inappropriate use includes but is not limited to online chatting, shopping, social networking sites (myspace.com, facebook.com, etc.), games, youtube.com, viewing of inappropriate material, bypassing school filters, downloading and installation of software, and harming the District’s digital resources in any way.

A categorical determination that computer games are ‘inappropriate use?’ A without-exception policy against YouTube, social networking sites, and online chats? I don’t agree! Now what? Do I make a stink with my daughter’s teacher? No, of course not. Do I refuse to sign it, thus preventing my daugher from using the computer in school next week for her class project? No, of course not [she’s already tired of me encouraging her to ask her teacher why she has to practice cursive writing!].

My uneasy compromise was to sign the form and then write under my signature:

I strenuously object to the District’s definition of ‘inappropriate use.’ Although I am signing this so that my daughter can use the computer at school, I reserve the right to contest at any time the District’s definition and this policy.

What do you think? What do you do as a parent when you’re confronted with a district AUP that you think is unnecessarily restrictive? How would you have handled this situation?

[Recently I was invited to serve on the district technology committee. Hopefully I can persuade them to rethink the AUP a little bit…]

17 Responses to “I don’t like my district’s AUP”

  1. Hi Scott,

    The tech committee is a good start, but a better bet would be to run for a seat on the school board. I’ll bet this is board adopted policy.

    And, if your district, like ours, uses models of policies produced by the state school board association, you might visit with that group as well.


  2. Larry Anderson of the National Center for Technology Planning (http://www.nctp.com/) ran an excellent workshop at NECC 2008 that basically focused on developing a Responsible Use Policy (RUP), where we describe what we expect students and employees to do and on describing “inappropriate use” in general terms rather than on specifics.

    Many school district AUPs are old and should be revised to reflect current use, expectations and technologies. I recommended to my School Board that we review our AUP/RUP annually and revise as needed.

    Dr. Anderson also has a blog at http://nctpcast.blogspot.com/ – worth checking out.

  3. I have one of these documents to review when I get home this weekend. I’m scared.

  4. I am a network admin for a school district in Indiana. Our policy does not do a wholesale restriction on these types of sites, but we do block a few of them. We block all IM sites and services and myspace. However, we have refused to block Facebook. With the privacy controls associated with that site, there is really no reason to do so. The kids need to be educated on how to keep themselves safe on the Internet and that is the perfect site to accomplish this. The blocking of Youtube was being discussed and feedback from the teachers prevented this from happening. They use Youtube extensively in the classroom for instruction.
    It is high time that people realize we shouldn’t be fearing the technologies that our kids are using, but embracing them and teaching our kids how to use them responsibly.

  5. So, is being up front and specific about the resources you’re banning better or worse than stating everything in generalities?

    In our district the AUP bans the use of computers and networks for anything that’s not “school system business” or that doesn’t “promote the instructional mission”.

    I can see instructional uses for YouTube, social networking, chat, and games. Our principals, the people responsible for interpreting and enforcing the AUP, often can’t. As a result, students at some schools have access to resources that students at other schools don’t. Some schools block Google Image Search, Delicious, and Blogger.

    Earlier this week a principal asked me if there was a way he could block RSS feeds! Some days I wish our AUP was more specific. 🙂

  6. You did the right thing, because otherwise the district would restrict your daughter. The districts are stuck with this one. You being a lawyer know this more than others. What would you do as the lawyer for the district? Allow full and open access to all sites? Allow full and open access to MySpace and face book? Allow full and open access to all boards? How do we keep students safe yet allow all this collaboration?

  7. I was originally going to post to your blog entry, and say, “Good for you.” Joining the technology team is a good first step. I am sure they will appreciate your insight and input.

    However, I want to add to this! Hayden’s response pushed me back a little to think about my responses to most things in technology. I am immediate in my response to say that there is so much blocking best practices in technology for kids in school. Fortunately, I have easy access to bypass a lot of items that are blocked at school, and our teachers are given a lot of access as well. BUT, there is still a level of frustration. Anything with the word, blog, is blocked and by the time, I type in my bypass info 6-7 times to read through my feeds, I get annoyed. I keep wondering when and if this can change, and how do I help assist to change these blockers of progress. This isn’t about me having to type in bypass info. This is about teachers having to do it and on 20+ laptops in a classroom if she wants to take her students to a site that might be blocked. She can’t give the bypass info to the kids to type in, so it really is a frustrating and legitimate struggle for our teachers. Yes, he or she can have items unblocked, but even that can be a laborious process.

    Thanks for listening.

  8. This particular issue is a lot more complicated than it appears on the surface. As a district technology director, I can easily say that administration of filtering policy and practice is incredibly hard (and getting harder).

    My first point would be somewhat critical – since when is any particular site reflective of inappropriate behavior? This is plain improper wording (at least) and/or really misguided practice. The heart of the issue in the wording of the AUP is mixing behavior/actions with actual content – total mismatch.

    I think Scott is right to carefully read and to protest, but am afraid his complaint will go unnoticed in a stack of hundreds. Someone else needs to hear this in the school district (technology team is a good start – call the director if impatient with the process).

    Lastly, as to how this is complicated.

    Filters are not very sophisticated. They were designed when the web was pretty black-and-white in terms of content. If you blocked the Penthouse as a site, one could feel somewhat comfortable that the entire Penthouse site was probably not a great site for students or staff to use.

    Today, blocking Youtube really throws out everything good with the content which really is questionable. Some of which can be pulled up with little or no intent in search results and some of the ways in which Youtube determines what videos are similar to the ones you are watching.

    No filter deals with differentiation of Youtube content, so if you want to keep the “good” and you must accept “the bad”. Please understand I do not believe it is so easy to call content “good” and “bad”, but I am using it for simplicity sake.

    So, the question is, how is this handled from a school or district level perspective? It is not as easy as some will make it sound. If you have had significant influence on the policies and practices of filtering, or been on the bad end of either angry parents or angry staff, you’ll know what I mean.

    For every person who says, “How can you block x, y, or z” there is an equal and opposite person asking how you can possibly allow kids to see x, y, or z. (OK, I am oversimplifying it again).

    Most districts don’t land at the extremes (although I know of two in my state, one that filters nothing, and one that allows only approved categories – these are not the norm). The question is where in the middle do you land, using what philosophies, criteria, input, and decision-making, and then how do you work to make sure it is flexible and understood?

  9. Unfortunately, your protest will likely either go unnoticed or “reserving your rights” will be interpreted as not agreeing to adhere to the policy and she will be denied access, (which is what I would do to protect the district).

    I am by no means defending the district’s policy. However, they must enforce the policy that the Board of Education has approved. This is where your challenge needs to go. Most Boards of education reserve time at every meeting for public comments. You MUST voice this concern to the Board. If they are unaware of any public objection, it will go untouched by them until someone in the district brings the policy up for review.

  10. Imagine trying to teach a media creation class in a district with similar restrictions. My students have difficulty doing Google image searches, nevermind YouTube…

  11. These restrictions drive me crazy! As a classroom teacher I can’t use Google Image Search to find pictures. Of course I can simply type in “picture of Napoleon” and get what I need. I see a principal wanted to ban RSS feeds. It is all so silly and unnecessary.

  12. While I fully understand the difficulty of establishing AUPs and striking that delicate balance between safety and curricular need, I have a thought related but of a different vein. Why can’t YouTube offer an educationally safe hyperlink/portal for school districts? Some of the stuff on it is WONDERFUL and some is well, reflective of the worst in our society. Same with Blogger – why can’t they offer up blogs for students that have the “next” hyperlink removed? Filtering is a tough issue, and districts will always err on the side of caution. I understand this, but am at the same time a huge proponent of teaching Internet safety to students so those skills serve them well when there is no filter to make the decision for them.

  13. I wish more parents would do what you did, and specify in writing why the AUP is not reflective of today’s learners or their children. You made the right decision, but my curiosity now is WHO, other than that classroom teacher will read your comments? What are the chances she will not even look through the pages, and instead file them away. I’d love to read a follow up if your child’s teacher or the school district responds in any way. Ball’s in their court. Will they take a whack at it? Unlikely. And that is the real problem. Almost as problematic as the parents (and me) rifling through all those papers that came home the first day, signing away without one whit of interest in what i was signing.

  14. I would love to hear about the school’s response to your conditions. The fact that the tons of games that support literacy and math skills would be forbidden because of your child’s AUP is chilling. It is interesting to see how many of these AUPs are outdated.

    I am interested in the poster who said Facebook was permitted on his school’s network. I imagine that would be a huge distraction when trying to conduct a class in a computer lab.

    How many teachers are being denied the ability to use helpful technology because of this AUP? I think if you pursued your “strenuous objection,” you would be considered a hero at your daughter’s school – at least among the faculty!

  15. As a special educator, I am consistently attempting to ensure that my students are literate. There are obviously many types of literacy, and currently many people use cursive when handwriting. In order to read cursive, it is important for kids to learn it. While I would rather that my kids were competent typists, I still teach them cursive so that if someone writes in cursive, they can read it. For me it is simply a matter of literacy and not handwriting.

  16. As an employee of an educational software company that developed a system that (among other things) acts as an Internet content filter, I feel compelled to comment on this thread.

    (Blatant plug alert!)

    Not all filters are created equal. Ours gives schools and school districts the ability to give their teachers some discretion over how the filter works.

    And it’s not just a matter of a filter bypass or over-ride for teachers. We devised a way for a teacher to create a Web-based activity (call it a Web lesson) which includes access to Web content that would otherwise be blocked by district policy.

    For example, a Science teacher wants her class to view a YouTube video on mitosis (there are tons of them!), but the filter is blocking Streaming Media or Media Sharing Web sites. With our instructional Internet management system (and with discretion over the Streaming Media/Media sharing categories in her User permissions), the Science teacher could create a Web lesson with a link to that YouTube video, without allowing access to the rest of YouTube. That’s the premise of our system – giving teachers the ability to manage their own students’ Internet access based on the needs of the curriculum.

    But we’re a small company and nobody’s ever heard of us, so we resort to guerilla marketing tactics like posting to ed tech blogs.

    If anyone’s interested, I’ll be happy to provide more details, like the product and company name.

    (End of blatant plug)

  17. As a tech coordinator in a parochial school, I can tell you that blocking sites is seldom an issue. We simply don’t do it routinely.

    Our parents are aware of this, and, of course, some have reservations, but our response is that students must learn to navigate between right and wrong in their lives. The world does not come with filters. Most parents support this view when they think about it.

    Our AUP states that when students encounter an inappropriate site, they must not draw other students’ attention to it and they must immediately leave it. These are measurable criteria and students understand them and work within them 99.9% of the time.

    Having said that, we can and DO block sites in the lab briefly when the students need to be focused on other things. We use NetSupport School to electronically “peer over their shoulders,” and teachers in the lab can turn blocking on and off for specific sites the kids might want to visit when avoiding assignments. They also can block Internet access when necessary to ensure students are using local resources only. There are real pedagogic reasons for wanting blocking at times, but blocking should always be a temporary measure, not a blanket restriction that’s always in place.

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