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Fairfield School Board OKs Searches Of Student Laptops

Students' personal computers could be searched by Fairfield teachers with a "reasonable suspicion" that they are breaking rules, under a new school board policy.
Students' personal computers could be searched by Fairfield teachers with a "reasonable suspicion" that they are breaking rules, under a new school board policy. Photo Credit: Flickr user LaMenta3

FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Fairfield students’ personal computers are now subject to searches if teachers suspect they are breaking rules in school.

The Board of Education approved its new policy for student Internet use Tuesday night. The rules stipulate that students’ activity on school-owned computers and files stored on school servers “should not be considered private,” meaning those can be searched at any time.

Students who bring their own computers and Internet-ready devices could also face searches, but only if teachers or administrators suspect that the student is breaking a rule. In those cases, the teacher would only be permitted to look for problems related to “the initial basis for the reasonable suspicion.”

The district's policy already forbids students from downloading copyrighted or obscene materials, harassing or bullying other kids or conducting illegal activities on school Internet connections. The new policy gives teachers the power to search school-owned or personal computers to enforce those rules.

The school board initially considered a stricter policy, which would provide for no privacy on any computer within school grounds. But a warning from the American Civil Liberties Union led the board to change its plan.

Board member Perry Liu suggested even more revisions. He said that ACLU attorney Al McGuire offered to review the policy with the school board to protect against potential lawsuits.

“Given that this is a person who deals with rights situations, my feeling is that we should listen to this person,” Liu said.

Policy Committee chair Jennifer Maxon Kennelly, however, noted that the policy was already approved by the Board of Education’s own attorney. Fellow board member Tim Kery said he would be against writing policy with the help of a “special interest group.”

“I’m comfortable with…our legal counsel’s advice that we pay for,” Kery said. “I’d be very uncomfortable inviting a special interest to write our policies for us.”

The Board of Education approved the new policy by a 7-2 vote, with Liu and Sue Brand voting against it. The rules go into effect immediately.

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