In 2015, the ACLU of Massachusetts published a report on student privacy which included this troubling revelation: Many schools in the Commonwealth tell students they have “no expectation of privacy” when it comes to their digital information at school and on school devices. For whatever reason, school policies frequently contrasted to what one administrator later told me was the practice: officials only look through a student’s device, internet search history, or email account if they have some specific reason to believe he or she is up to no good.
Two model policies—one pertaining to school internet networks and devices, and the other to student devices on campus—aim to bridge that gap, bringing official policy in line with what the administrator assured me was common practice. Each policy sets out how and under what circumstances school officials and law enforcement may access student information, regardless of whether that information exists on school owned technologies or on a student’s own computer or phone. The policies require that school officials have an articulable reason to believe a student has violated school policy before invading their digital privacy; that officials allow a parent or guardian to be present when the search is conducted; and require that the school be transparent with the community about how often it is searching through students’ digital records or devices, and for what reasons. The policies also require that law enforcement obtain a warrant to access any student’s digital information, except in life threatening emergencies.
Earlier this week we sent these model policies to the Massachusetts Association of School Committees and school committees in the 69 largest districts in the state. We hope districts will implement them, because we know that students can have their technology and their privacy, too.