FAIRFIELD, Conn. – A proposed Internet usage policy for Fairfield schools has gained attention from the American Civil Liberties Union, as the group says the district’s policy might violate the U.S. Constitution’s protections against illegal searches.
The Board of Education is discussing changes to its Internet use policy to go into effect this year. Under the proposed policy, students would still be banned from accessing pornography or “explicit” texts or files. It also prohibits students from using the school’s Internet connections for any illegal activity, such as file sharing and threatening. Cyber-bullying via social media sites or chat rooms is also explicitly outlawed.
David McGuire, an attorney from the Connecticut chapter of the ACLU, sent a letter warning that the policy might be illegal under the Fourth Amendment. Specifically, he pointed out a section of the board’s proposed rules that would let teachers and administrators look through students’ personal computers and other devices.
“Digital storage and electronic devices used for school purposes, whether district or personally owned, will be treated as extensions of the school space,” the section reads. “Therefore, all students must be aware that they should not have any expectation of personal privacy in the use of these resources.”
The board’s Policy Committee and central administration looked at policies already used by other school systems in Connecticut and guidelines offered by the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) when it drew up the rule, said Deputy Superintendent Karen Parks. But she added that those rules applied to towns that don’t allow students to bring their own computers and tablets to class.
“There has been no court case in Connecticut where the student has used their own device and it has been searched,” Parks said.
The school board is now trying to find ways to protect its wireless network from viruses and enforce its conduct rules for students without exposing itself to lawsuits on Constitutional grounds. Members also said they were unsure if the policy should apply only to devices that use the school’s Internet connection, or if cell phones with access to the Internet would apply as well.
“I’m assuming the intent of what our policy committee put together was (to cover) devices that are on our Internet, or devices that are on school grounds, just like anything else that’s on school grounds,” said Board of Education member Tim Kery.
The Board of Education decided to send the proposal back to its Policy Committee for changes at its meeting Tuesday night. Committee members Jennifer Maxon Kennelly, John Convertito and Paul Fattibene will come up with new wording and bring the changes to the rest of the board later this fall.