Education Opinion

1st and 4th Amendment Rights and the Schoolosphere

By LeaderTalk Contributor — February 28, 2010 2 min read
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“The protections of the Fourth Amendment are clear. The right to protection from unlawful searches is an indivisible American value. Two hundred years of court decisions have stood in defense of this fundamental right. The state’s interest in crime-fighting should never vitiate the citizens’ Bill of Rights.” -John AshCroft

One would be hard pressed to ignore the recent developments of alleged violation of student privacy in the Lower Merion school district in Pennsylvania. Although, the district denies the charges, the plaintiffs in a lawsuit allege that a school vice-principal attempted to discipline their son on the basis of a photo taken from a web camera on the student’s laptop while the student was at home. These cameras, according to the district were used as a “security feature” to track stolen laptops. They allege that at no time did an administrator have access to the tracking software. Yet, the plaintiffs allege that it was a vice-principal that approached their son with an accusation of drug use and there is an ongoing investigation into the case by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The events of the case get more tangled as mainstream media and the blogosphere explore the issue and reveal that the student has materials on his low-privacy rated social networking sites that could potentially both harm and or help his case as to if the alleged photo were accurate or not. The resulting mess is a ball of 1st and 4th amendment issues that will have us all watching this case for many years and will probably pay for several sons and daughters of the involved lawyers to attend the best of online educational institutions.

I can think of no more important legal issues facing educational technology today than the balance of free speech, free thought, privacy and the boundary of the schoolosphere, which is I think a neat term to describe the sphere of influence of a school.This sphere of influence has obviously moved beyond the walls of the schoolhouse into the digital world in which most of us now spend a significant amount of time. It is clear that administrators, teachers, and students are blundering around cyberspace with very different ideas of what is acceptable. We must come to a consensus as to what constitutes boundary areas of the schoolosphere if we are to succeed in a successful transition to a digital world.

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Special thanks to Becky Parton, Julie Matte and Anita duBusdeValempre for their thoughtful insights into this issue.

Robert Hancock

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.