Mea COPPA

I enjoyed your article “Protect you schools from liability over COPPA” (Ethics & Law) in the July issue. As a teacher and employee of a children’s internet company, I am absorbing all the COPPA information I can. The section on the schools acting as intermediaries between operators and parents in the consent and permission process is often overlooked, and I was glad to see you explain it further.

I did notice, though, that you were erroneous in reporting the ages that COPPA applies to. The rules governing the online collection of personal information applies to children under 13, not 13 years old or younger as you wrote. Thirteen-year-olds are exempt. I try to use the following language: “12 and younger” or “13 and older.” I guess once kids are teenagers, they are thought to be able to make smarter choices (I’m not really sure that they do, but maybe that’s what the feds were thinking).

Cathy Guy

Marketing Representative

Headbone Interactive

Peacefire draws ire

In response to your story “Group charges web filtering firms with double standard” (July 2000) … Yes, all filtering software is faulty. But when I am trying to teach second-graders using 30 PCs on the internet, you better believe I feel more comfortable knowing there is some kind of filter on there, as I have seen what can and will happen with nothing on there. Hormones raging, pre-adolescents can—and will, at times—willfully get into hot water fast.

Why should anyone listen to this organization, Peacefire, anyway? Have you visited their web site? They are actively teaching people (and children) how to hack through the filters. How helpful is that to educators trying to do their job without getting sued and giving children an eyeful of the tackiest and most pornographic sites on the internet without intending any harm? I would not devote any space or time of day to this organization.

Karen L. Woodford

Technology Coordinator

Samuel Staples Elementary School

Easton, Conn.

Retaking control

Regarding David Splitt’s “response-to-the response” piece on the appropriate action to take when school officials discover an off-campus web site that is “offensive or embarrassing” (Ethics & Law, June 2000):

There are clearly more alternatives. Mr. Splitt creates a rhetorical triad of courses of action: (1) calling the police, (2) punishing the student, or (3) “educating” him or her with a “sense of humor.” This is clearly the old lawyer’s trick of making the possibilities presented by the orator appear to be the only ones, carefully weighed and rationally debated, of course.

In other words, Mr. Splitt is saying, if the threatening or demeaning web publication contains no overt, direct physical threat, it isn’t actionable. He is wrong.

Obviously, you cannot offically punish students for writing and publishing whatever inanity they choose on their own time and with their own resources, providing it falls within the society-wide parameters of protected speech.

What we sometimes forget is that we’re the grownups, and kids, even big ones, learn from being confronted with their mistakes and lapses in judgement, even if those lapses are fully legal. Not every teacher or school official who falls victim to some teenage angst-monger’s poison keyboard has to stand by and let him- or herself be ridiculed or intimidated, and the remedies are remarkably low-tech.

The first thing to do is pick up the phone and tell the kid’s parents what’s on Junior’s web page—the one they’re probably paying for. That page once featured darling pictures of Junior with karate trophy, trout-derby ribbon, and that cute Quicktime piano-recital video. Mom and Dad may not be too thrilled about buying a chunk of teen cyberspcae that contains links to Bert is Evil and the White Aryan Resistance, as well as driving directions to vice-principal Richardson’s house next to her bowling league schedule.

Another effective tactic is to use your own right to free speech. If you feel offended and threatened by undisciplined teenage cyber-thugs, let people know about it. Sure, some are going to say it’s just a virtual form of soap letters on the gym roof; but just because the Constitution protects these e-bullies doesn’t mean they should be allowed to waltz through the rest of the day consequence-free after excoriating a hard-working educator over the internet.

Look, it’s obvious that the internet makes it easy for kids to do the wrong thing. Untold numbers of slam books must end up in the copy-room wastebasket, and dozens of shop walls are saved from the spray can by a well-timed set of headlights. But you don’t even get a dialog box between writing an eMail and clicking the “send” button. There’s no time for reconsideration or regret. And in the post-Columbine era, certain kinds of “wrong things” carry a heavier dollop of opprobrium than they used to.

We shouldn’t stress over this. More people have more freedom of expression than ever before—we just need to manage it better. The First Amendment is in full force, but actions still bring consequences. Even though your statement “Mr. Stuyvesant will die” may be interpreted as a simple observation about the transient nature of Man’s time on earth, I’ve got your dad’s phone number, and he probably wants to know just what you mean by that if you want to use his car this Friday.

So, Mr. Splitt, while you may be correct as to the amount of control a school can exert over student web publications, your’re not right. Educators must learn to look out for themselves, and to serve the Constitution as well.

Matt Gillespie

President

Kentfield Teacher’s Association

Kentfield, Calif.

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