States

La. Bill Would Limit Educators’ Use of Personal Tech Devices

May 19, 2009 1 min read

I’ve heard many educators and school reform advocates talk about the importance of increased communication between teachers and parents. The more information teachers share with parents about their child’s progress, the better, right?

Well, teachers in Louisiana will have to adhere to some pretty stringent guidelines for reaching out to parents and students using their own personal computers, cellphones, and other communication devices. Lawmakers in the state legislature in Baton Rouge could be close to finalizing a bill that would restrict teachers from using personal devices to communicate with their constituents.

For many educators around the country, communication with students’ families often occurs before and after school. Like the conversation I exchanged with my son’s 3rd grade teacher at 9:30 p.m. one night this month. It just so happened that the teacher and I were both online checking e-mail, and luckily were able to resolve whatever issue came up within a few minutes. I’m sure that my son’s teacher was at her home at the time, probably tapping away at her own computer, just as I often do when I’m catching up on work e-mail in the evenings.

House bill 570, which is scheduled for a floor debate today, is intended to head off any potentially inappropriate interactions between staff and students. The bill would require teachers to use only school-issued computers, phones, and other tools to e-mail or phone parents or students. When teachers must use their own personal phones or computers, the law would require them to report the contact to the district.

I don’t know if districts in Louisiana routinely provide laptops and cellphones to teachers, but it seems likely that this kind of a law would limit, if not discourage, many teachers’ conversations with parents.

Does the security concern here trump the need for more teacher-parent communication? Is restricted contact necessarily a bad thing?

Aliza Libman, a Massachusetts middle school teacher, balked at first when she learned her e-mail usage would be limited to school time. But in this op-ed she describes her change of heart when she realized that limited e-mail correspondence would help her improve her overall communication with parents and give her more control over how and when she would have those big and small conversations with parents and students.

Here’s a snippet:

Without e-mail at home, I’ve had to be quick and efficient at school, or risk staying hours after the work day ends. I have taught myself how to prioritize and weed out the e-mails that don’t require immediate attention, or that don’t need responses at all. Restricted e-mail access, I’ve found, also makes me think seriously about whether there are better ways to communicate with a family or solve a problem. I don’t automatically dash off quick e-mails anymore. When I do write them, I write carefully, giving attention to every word. Perhaps, I have concluded, e-mail is like ice cream—too much makes me sick, but life without it would be inconceivable.

Your thoughts?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.

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