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An Educator's Guide to Enforcing Acceptable Use Policies

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  Enforcing Acceptable Use Policies Written by Kim Fitzer , Hinsdale Central High School, Hinsdale, IllinoisOriginal written by Jim Peterson, Bloomington School District, Bloomington, IL IntroductionBecause so many school districts across the country have adopted  Acceptable Use Policies,the utilization and development of these policies now seem to be somewhat standard. Muchhas been written on the purpose and writing of a good Acceptable Use Policy, so this paper will not dwell on these topics. However, several key issues have arisen in conjunction withthe adoption of Acceptable Use Policies in recent months, and it may be important toinvestigate the ramifications of these issues. This paper will primarily focus on theenforcement of acceptable use policies, and additional considerations which may have to bemade by school technology administrators and staff.Issues Involved with Enforcing Acceptable Use Policies A school's acceptable use policy is useless unless it is strictly enforced. A school districtmay have an ironclad policy which staunchly protects itself and its users from engaging in illegal activities, and may have state-of-the art security measures such as firewalls andtracking and filtering software installed on its servers. However, the bottom line is, unless thestaff, students, parents and administrators are prepared to continually monitor Internet use,an acceptable use policy means nothing to the very people is is supposed to legally protect.The following are examples of how schools can enforce the acceptable use policy, and makethe consequences for violating the policy swift and consistent.If an AUP states that all users' activities will be monitored, then the school IT staff needs to be sure that it is doing just that. The school server should maintain an Internet log or history of all sites visited by users. Furthermore, this log should bereviewed daily, to determine if unacceptable activity has taken place and where. If users are aware from the beginning that their goings and comings on the Internet willbe observed, and that noncompliance will result in their being barred from the use of the system, inevitably fewer problems will arise (1).If the school employs the use of filters to block unacceptable content, there needs to bean understanding that filters cannot possibly block all questionable content, and mayblock material that is useful to staff and students. Where filters fail, a very well-written AUP can take over. The AUP should be very clear on what kinds of content isconsidered unacceptable, whether it be chat rooms, news groups, pornography, sitesthat promote hate or violence, term paper vending machine sites, gaming, or any other questionable material. By avoiding generalities and vague language in the drafting of the AUP, districts can minimize their liabilities in the even that the filters fail (2).In order to be sure that students, staff and parents understand the provisions within andconsequences of violating the AUP, merely requiring the users signature may not beenough. Explaining the AUP to students in an open discussion forum, holding staff inservices on the provisions of the AUP and how to effectively use the Internet, makingrecommendations for meaningful assignments that use the Internet, restructuring  An Educator's Guide to Enforcing Acceptable Use Policieshttp://education.illinois.edu/wp/crime-2002/aup.htm1 of 52014-10-15, 3:10  computer labs so that all computers are visible from a single location, and involvingparents in their child's computer usage are all steps that a school can take to ensurecompliance with their AUP (3).Further monitoring of the school's network, especially in schools with extremely heavytechnology use, may require the use of software that only activates when violationshave occurred within the system. Products such as eSniff and VIEW passively sit on the school's server and do not activate until the linguistic and analyzing technologydetects inappropriate use. Without the user's knowledge, the software then alerts theproper authorities and auto-saves the offending document for the administrator to viewto determine if an infraction has occurred. The software also logs the time and IPaddress of the computer used. While this seems like a violation of privacy, one of themain features of an AUP is to notify users that they essentially have no right to privacyif they use an institution's system (4). Further, the use of a product such as this allows agreater freedom in the use of the Internet for educators and students, while only limitingunacceptable use. Filtering software is not needed (5).Minimizing Potential for AUP Violations As stated before, the enforcement of an AUP really requires strong support from everyone inthe educational community: administrators, teachers, support staff, parents, and of course,students. If an AUP exists only as a document and not an inviolable entity within the cultureof the school, transgressions will occur. Further, steps taken prior to the need to enforce the AUP is perhaps the best approach. Several precautions can be taken to ensure that the AUP is followed:Use clear and precise language: A well-written document will eliminate confusion andminimize liabilities for students, staff and administrators. Be sure to carefully list allcircumstances in which a violation may occur and avoid generalities.Frequently review and revise the AUP. Make sure that all technology bases arecovered, and eliminate any legalese that may seem deliberately confusing to theaverage reader (6). It may also help to consult all parties in the community to find outwhere the areas of concern are, and address them in the AUP. For instance, if ateacher feels that students should not be playing games, even in their free time in her computer lab, but other teachers do allow it, then a consensus needs to be reachedregarding games and stated so in the AUP.Make sure that the AUP is school board approved for the entire district. Legalimplications (which will be discussed later ) as well as conflicting information may ariseif the school board has no knowledge of or has not voted on the provisions within thepolicy, especially if every school in the district drafts their own. Once again, clear andprecise stipulations for accountability, consequences, what constitutes improper andproper use, liability limitations, codes of conduct, and establishment of a review andaudit process should be spelled out carefully and agreed upon by the school board, inthe event violations do occur (7).Legal Implications  An Educator's Guide to Enforcing Acceptable Use Policieshttp://education.illinois.edu/wp/crime-2002/aup.htm2 of 52014-10-15, 3:10  Because violations of a school's AUP can and do occur, even with the most ironclad of documents, schools need to be aware of the potential legal ramifications that may ariseshould a student or staff member be reprimanded for a transgression. Several cases havedeveloped which illustrate the need for extensive research prior to drafting an AUP, so thatthe legal pitfalls may be avoided.In a lawsuit filed by a member of the community and parent of a student, Exeter Regional Cooperative School District's AUP was called into question when it wasdiscovered that the Internet logs the district's servers regularly recorded were not beingmonitored. Furthermore, when the logs were requested by the community member for perusal, the district refused and called on their own right to privacy. Courts take a dimview of this claim, particularly when the Internet logs are intended to monitor Internetuse, which is itself not subject to invasion of privacy guarantees. If the district ismonitoring Internet use, there can be no claim for an invasion of privacy, by any partiesinvolved (8). As the AUP is written for and protects the school community, the school communityalso needs to be aware of how the AUP applies to them. Some members of thecommunity, such as parents and school board members may think that an AUP doesnot apply to them because they are not direct users of the school's system. However,an AUP should cover all electronic communication, and in particular the wording of thatcommunication. Failing to regard netiquette when sending emails can subject theauthor to libel at the worst, and an embarrassing situation at the least. Many stateshave enacted sunshine laws requiring that when two or more school board membersgather, an actual meeting is taking place and therefore subject to public disclosure.Using e-mail to voice opinions and views about faculty, administration, other boardmembers, parents, students or board policies may be a violation of the sunshine laws,or may open the school board to litigation by the offended party (9). And some schoolshave taken steps to minimize teacher harassment by parents through e-mail by addinga parental code of conduct to their AUP (10). While there are currently no lawsuitsregarding inflammatory and defamatory language from parents pending, the potentialmay exist in some areas.Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) How can I be sure that my school's AUP is enforceable?  Review the school's AUP and use the above guidelines as a reference. If the AUPseems to contain vague language, or is written in legalese, or seems to be toogeneral in terms of what it will and won't permit, the AUP may need to revised. Also, it may be helpful to take the AUP to a member of the Language ArtsDepartment (if that is not your subject area), and have the document scanned for improper wording, misspelling, or other potential problems (11). Remember, if it isnot clear to you, a highly-educated individual, then it will not be clear to your students. What should I do if one of my students has violated the district's AUP?  First, make sure that a violation has occurred. If your district does not employtracking or smart technology, then it may be that your district has passed the  An Educator's Guide to Enforcing Acceptable Use Policieshttp://education.illinois.edu/wp/crime-2002/aup.htm3 of 52014-10-15, 3:10  accountability reins to you. Be aware of what content areas and transgressionsconstitute a violation, and then compare what the student has done with thoseprovisions. If a violation has occurred, then the issue should be taken directly tothe dean of students, or any other disciplinary team in the building. At this point itis out of your hands. The absolute worst action would be to take no action at all.This conveys several negative messages to your students:1) That the AUP is essentially worthless, and that computer useviolations are acceptable in your classroom.2) That your authority can be challenged. As any teacher knows, one of the keys to a good classroom management plan is maintaining aposition of authority when classroom or school rules have been violated. Annotated Web Site Directory (1) November 1, 2000. David A. Splitt. Ethics and Law -- Acceptable-use policies areuseless unless strictly enforced. Published online in eSchool News Online.http://www.eschoolnews.org/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=1764 (2) July 1, 2001. David A. Splitt. Back up your filtering with an airtight AUP.   Publishedonline in eSchool News Online. http://www.eschoolnews.org/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=2755 (3) January 1, 2001. Five Keys to Supporting an Acceptable Use Policy. abstracted from Setting Standards for Acceptable Use by Jerry Crystal, Cherie A. Geide,and Judy Salpeter Technology & Learning, November 2000, p. 24. Published online ineSchool News Online. http://www.eschoolnews.org/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=2150 (4) November 1, 2000. David A. Splitt. Ethics and Law -- Acceptable-use policies areuseless unless strictly enforced. Published online in eSchool News Online.http://www.eschoolnews.org/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=1764 (5) 2002. Vericept Corporation. Content monitoring, blocking and filtering: a comparison. http://www.vericept.com/solutions/education_monitor.shtml (6) November 1, 2001. David A. Splitt. Give your AUP a fall tune-up--here's how. Publishedonline in eSchool News Online. http://www.eschoolnews.org/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=3135 (7) October 1, 2001. David A. Splitt. Understanding the ‘P’ in AUP. Published online ineSchool News Onlinehttp://www.eschoolnews.org/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=3055 (8) November 1, 2000. David A. Splitt. Ethics and Law -- Acceptable-use policies areuseless unless strictly enforced. Published online in eSchool News Online.http://www.eschoolnews.org/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=1764 (9) 2002. Kathleen Vail. The Perils of E-mail. Published online in the American SchoolBoard Journal. Cover Story, September 2002. http://www.asbj.com/current/coverstory2.html  An Educator's Guide to Enforcing Acceptable Use Policieshttp://education.illinois.edu/wp/crime-2002/aup.htm4 of 52014-10-15, 3:10

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