Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs) are put in place by school districts as a way to ensure that the school network and technology are being used in the manner in which they were intended. The policy is often linked on school websites and is easily accessible. Some schools have it as a stand-alone document while others embed it in their general Code of Conduct. However the district presents it, most require both students and parents to sign the document stating that they have read the material and understand it.
According to the Consortium for School Networking, Acceptable Use Policies have two main foci: protect and provide. AUPs should “protect students from harmful content on the Internet and regulate students use of the Internet, so they do not harm other students or interfere with the school’s instructional program and provide students with good access to digital media to support engaged learning” (2013). AUPs are also a form of protection for the district itself.
An effective AUP should include, per the National Education Association, a preamble, definitions, a statement of policy, acceptable and unacceptable uses and a violations/sanctions section (as cited in “Getting Started,” n.d.). At a minimum, a good AUP should include the district’s goals, what the acceptable uses are and also the unacceptable uses of the given technology. Definitions should be included to ensure clarity and understanding, and consequences for violations should also be clear. In researching different AUPs from local districts, I found a wide range of policies and documents. Some are very short and lacked any real specificity, outlining the policies and uses in broad strokes. Others are very detailed and lengthy, which everything spelled out very distinctly. Both of these types of AUPs are concerning for very different reasons. If an AUP is too short or is missing some of the sections, such as definitions of terms, it leaves itself open to personal interpretation, resulting in less protection for everyone involved. However, if it is too lengthy and detailed, the district runs the risk of people signing the document without reading it thoroughly, if at all, much like those pages of small print that credit card companies send to users. This can also result in less protection, as end users will not know what is acceptable use and what is not. There was an occurrence in a local district last year involving a custody battle. The student had written a diary of sorts using a Google Doc on the school server. The parent and lawyer demanded the school turn over the documents. The AUP states very clearly that all material created and saved on the school server is school property and as such, is accessible by the district. The student and parent both signed the document but the student did not read it. After consulting with the district attorneys, the school agreed to provide the requested material.
It is a fine balance to write an AUP that includes all the necessary information, without being so long and wordy that the majority of users will not read it in its entirety. My district’s AUP is mailed home to students and parents before the start of each school year. Both must sign it before the student is allowed to access the Internet on the school network, using school devices. As a special education teacher, my concern is that my students are being given this policy, and they are signing it, most without having read any of it. Those that do make an attempt to read it, often do not understand the ramifications of what they have read, if indeed, they can process the material at all. If a student requires tests to be read to them, important documents such as this should also be read to them, with someone from the school checking to ensure that they understand the material and what their signature represents. It is not enough to send it home for a signature. We need to find a way to ensure that the information is processed and understood. This could happen when our Chromebooks are issued in the fall, or during the first week of class. However we implement this, it must be mandatory, for both the students’ protection and that of the district.
Here are some examples of Acceptable Use Policies from several local school districts, with the first one being my own:
Consortium for School Networking. (2013). Rethinking acceptable use policies to enable digital learning: A guide for school districts. Washington, DC.
Getting Started on the Internet: Acceptable Use Policies. (n.d.). In Education World. Retrieved February 21, 2016, from http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/curr093.shtml