Invasion of Privacy or Protection for Students?

A recent article explains how MySpace and Facebook postings are being used for discipline in schools. At my school the same thing occurs on a limited basis.

One problem we are seeing is that students will post pictures of athletic code violations. Often, students or coaches will print off MySpace pictures to reveal athletes or students in activities breaking the agreed upon code of conduct required to participate in high school sports and activities. This has become a fairly regular occurrence, and many students put on probation or suspended from events were caught because of these sites.

The other difficulty we have is that many confrontations at school stem from students airing their feuds on MySpace and Facebook. What started in cyberspace manifests in hallways, classrooms, and at events. It is not unusual to have students defend their actions by printing pages from these social networking sites and revealing patterns of behavior from their perceived antagonists.

I’m not sure where the line is drawn when administrators, security officials, coaches, and teachers search these sites looking for violations. Since we cannot access these sites from the school (web filters take care of this), everyone must be using personal computers to conduct the searches.

Should we be searching these sites? How do we use what we find? Where is the line?

I definitely feel that someone, at some point, has to begin teaching students responsible internet usage. If parents are not doing this, do we take the reins and add this to our lengthy list of duties? Do we eliminate something else we teach?

The cyber world is invading the educational world, so what are our responsibilities in dealing with this new wrinkle?


9 thoughts on “Invasion of Privacy or Protection for Students?

  1. The Science Goddess

    The Supreme Court ruled this summer that schools have no provenance over things posted outside the school day in a student’s own home (or at least not using school owned equipment). If the school allows the sites through its filters, that can be another matter. Schools can discipline kids for things that spill over into the school day (as you describe), but your admin had better be extra careful about punishing kids for the posts themselves. They can’t go there.

  2. Peter Stinson

    I know of a private school that has banned students from having or visiting social network sites… Totally… If a student is found having an account, no matter what is on it, then the student receives substantial disciplinary action. There’s no searching: no one is on any site.

  3. drpezz Post author

    SG –

    Fortunately, the students are not punished for what is posted, but it is used when incidents online influence what happens at school.

    A side note here: each time I try to connect to your blog, I get a blank page. Do you know why this might be?

    Peter –

    Our school district loves to ban things, but I don’t think it’ll stop people from having an account.

  4. drpezz Post author

    I had not seen the article, but I do think some of those teachers need to learn how to use (responsibly) these same social networking sites. If these teachers are of the younger variety, I wonder if they too are part of this generation (along with our students) of people who haven’t mastered how to use the internet with maturity.

  5. Jim Van Pelt

    We had a student at our school create a copy of one of our teacher’s MySpace page, and then mail explicit e-mails to students of the teacher. The teacher was suspended for two months while the school district and the police investigated. Eventually the truth came out, but it was an ugly time for the teacher. It didn’t help that his real MySpace page had pictures of him lounging in a hot tub with a drink and included a dating profile for himself. Maybe he would have less trouble if he clearly separated this page from his professional life, but he had connections with a lot of his girl softball players on the page, and he used it to communicate team announcements. It was messy and ugly.

    We also had an incident where a bunch of athletes posted pictures of themselves drinking. One of the parents printed off the pages and brought it to the athletic director. His position was that he will not go searching the Internet for evidence of athletes violating their athletic agreements, but he can’t ignore it when it’s brought into his office.

    You can be sure, I’m very aware that anything that appears on my blog might be read by a parent, student or administrator. There is no privacy or expectation of privacy on the web.

    That should extend to e-mails too. Our administrators can call up all the e-mails we have sent using school computers. This could present a real issue if a teacher used the school’s e-mail to communicate concerns about an administrator with the building’s union rep.

  6. Clix

    It is definitely not teachers’ responsibility to teach reasonable internet use. However, we can – and should – model it for our students.

    I totally agree with Mr. Van Pelt – there is no privacy online.

  7. Peter Stinson

    I wasn’t suggesting that banning is appropriate, just what one private school had done. Perhaps we do need to teach students about the use of social network tools and other Web 2.0 tools. Not providing guidance only ensures that bad things will happen.

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