Many school districts now face a new area of liability as they seek to educate their students remotely via district-issued equipment.
In light of the vast numbers of New Jersey students now possessing and using district-owned computers and having district internet access, it is more important than ever to review school district computer usage and protection policies and procedures.
Not only are districts responsible for the usage by employees, they are also responsible for the usage of their students and communications that students may receive from persons not associated with the district.
Districts must be mindful that even in these times of remote education, the duty to supervise is now more important than ever. That duty does not end on the playground or in gym class — it now exists in cyberspace 24/7.
It is imperative that computer policies require and implement proper limitations or controls to prevent students from accessing unauthorized or inappropriate sites. Additionally, district-issued computers should have proper limitations or controls installed which would prevent third parties from communicating with minor students within the district. Policies in place to monitor the students’ use of the technology on school computers and/or laptops must be put in place and continually reviewed.
Communication with parents is more important than ever when it comes to student usage of district-owned computers. Any and all allegations made by parents of improper communications whether by students or by third parties must be taken seriously, investigated and vetted through the proper chain of command, up to and including law enforcement. Training for staff in these procedures is a district’s best protection against litigation alleging failure to properly supervise students on district-issued computers with internet access.
Districts should also begin thinking about their policies going forward as school returns to the physical classroom. Will students keep and continue to use district-issued equipment? Will internet access still be provided though the district? If so, security must be maintained and monitored so long as this is the case.
Any questions in this area should be discussed with the board attorney or the NJSBA Legal and Labor Relations Department at (609) 278-5254.