Magazine article Technology & Learning

Should Big Brother Be, Watching?

Magazine article Technology & Learning

Should Big Brother Be, Watching?

Article excerpt

Most school administrators are aware of the safety and legal issues that arise concerning student use of the internet. Fewer realize how many problems can crop up when districts fail to set clear guidelines for the use of listservs, user groups, and e-mail by school employees. Here's a look at three scenarios that illustrate some of the legal pitfalls to avoid. All are based on actual events, although some of the details have been changed.

User Groups on a School or District Web Site

Scenario: Your school district hosts a Web site that offers user groups where staff members participate in threaded discussions. Employees are encouraged to share their opinions. Some topics are more hotly debated than others, and occasionally an emotional remark is posted. One morning, a teacher who regularly contributes to the user group sees a negative comment she wrote online quoted verbatim in the morning newspaper. No one asked permission to quote her. Every page of the district site clearly states that content is copyrighted. She is understandably upset and asks you what the district will do.

Response: Despite the copyright notice, the reporter was legally able to publish the quote without direct permission, based upon the fair use provision in copyright law. User groups and listservs can be troublesome because members think the online conversation is limited to "invited guests." Password protection makes it more difficult for outsiders to eavesdrop electronically, but it is still not a privacy guarantee. Educate staff members about the nature of a listserv or user group, and then occasionally remind them that anything posted there is accessible to the public.

Public Meetings

Scenario: A district superintendent realizes that school board meetings are lengthening. He attributes this to two new board members who raise many questions about topics familiar to the existing members. The superintendent establishes a password-secured listserv to answer the new board members' questions outside of meeting time. The superintendent discusses his idea with you. What is your response?

Response: Every state has access laws regarding public information and meetings. Although existing rules seldom specifically prohibit this type of electronic communication, some community members charged that the "members only" listserv constituted a violation of public meeting laws. …

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