How to expand students’ ed-tech access—and stay out of court

Internet filtering

Under the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), schools that receive federal e-Rate discounts on their internet access are required to have an internet safety policy that includes the use of technology to protect them from harmful online content.

As of this year, schools applying for e-Rate discounts also must certify that they teach students about internet safety. The Federal Communications Commission recently clarified that schools don’t have to block students’ access to Facebook or other social networks under CIPA; instead, this is left to a school’s discretion.

CIPA, which was enacted by Congress in 2000, specifies only that school monitor their students’ use of the internet “on a district’s computers,” Trainor said—so the law is vague in terms of how it applies to schools implementing “bring your own device” (BYOD) policies.

She recommended that schools with BYOD programs require their students to access the internet through the district’s network, so the district’s filtering rules still apply while students are on campus.

While school leaders have some local discretion in terms of which websites they block, make sure you’re not filtering websites that express a particular viewpoint, as a central Missouri district recently learned.

The Camdenton R-III School District last month settled a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which said the district’s filtering software was blocking access to nonsexual websites about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues.

Under the terms of the settlement, the district agreed to stop blocking pro-LGBT sites, submit to monitoring for 18 months to confirm compliance, and pay $125,000 in legal costs. The ACLU sued the district as part of a national campaign to ensure that students have access to websites supporting gay and lesbian youth.

General advice

The key to staying out of legal trouble, Trainor said, is to draft clear policies that spell out your expectations for how students will use technology—and the consequences for misusing it. Here are some of her suggestions:

eSchool News Staff

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