Parents voice concerns over Technology Acceptable Use Policy

Several Mahomet-Seymour parents have been waiting to register their child for school.

As many parents entered the Skyward online registration system over the summer months, they saw familiar requirements such as proof of residency, contact information and emergency information.

But within the list that parents are accustomed to click through, a few parents paused to read the Technology Acceptable Use Policy that required their signature.

Within the document, they found several items that caused them to pause and to contact district administration where they were told it was a requirement of registration to agree to the policy.

A few of those parents addressed the Mahomet-Seymour School Board during Monday night’s study session to share their concerns publicly while also look for answers from the governing body.

Sarah Bensken, who has a student at Mahomet-Seymour Junior High, said that she has concerns with the student’s being responsible for the device.

The Mahomet-Seymour District is now looking for solutions to store and charge student Chromebooks during school hours, but earlier in the week, parents were told that the device had to be transported to and from school, just like a textbook, and charged for the following day.

Bensken is also concerned that there is no cap on the deductible parents will have to pay for the replacement of the device. As outlined in the replacement plan, the first deductible is $50 and the second is $100 to replace the device. On the third offense and the subsequent offenses, parents are responsible for the cost of the device at $170.

The policy states, “As with any district issued resource, students are financially responsible for loss/theft, or damage of the 1:1 device, per the Chromebook damage and replacement plan.”

Ross Bundy shared similar concerns with the board.

While he believes his daughter is mature enough to take care of the device, he does not want responsibility for the Chromebook after school hours.

“We’re not talking about textbooks, he said. “Textbooks are kind of under the same policy, but textbooks largely aren’t terribly valuable in the general public whereas a Chromebook is.”

Like Bensken, Bundy also has concerns about security.

Within the Frequently Asked Question section of the Responsible Use Policy website it states, “The district may monitor, record, and document use of the computer and other property to the extent allowed by law. Students should not believe that just because they access or create materials at home or off school property that they have any privacy. MSCUSD, as the owner of the computer and other property, has a right to access it and record it at any time and any place for legitimate, legal purposes, and the district reserves the right to do so as it deems necessary.”

While the FAQ section also states that MSCUSD has the right to access the devices, it also states that the district has “never enabled these devices for the purposes of remote monitoring and have no plans to do so, except in cases where it is deemed necessary.”

Meghan Hennesy said, “When I’m here previously asking questions when there are weapons incidents and things like that, the district line to me is, we take children’s privacy above all.  And now I’m being asked to sign a policy where I’m giving access and saying it’s okay.”

“Whether you want to or intend to is not the point. I’m signing a policy that gives up all my personal privacy.”

Bundy said, “I understand the schools don’t want unprotected devices to come into the school, but we have the same concerns with our home. It’s a matter that the possibility exists.”

Kris Rath said parents would likely be more inclined to sign a policy allowing the district to remotely monitor children’s activity for the purpose of school safety, while the student is on school grounds, if the district were to outline clear standards for what event(s) are “deemed necessary”, the specific plan of action for a recording event, and by obtaining parental consent for each recording event rather than a blanket consent as the policy now requires.

She said that as the policy stands, it violates a child’s and family’s Fourth Amendment rights.

“Not only does this part of the policy invade students’ and their family’s right to privacy within their home, but – for example – if there is a guest in the home during a time that the District remotely enables the video or audio recording functions of the device, and the District has not obtained the consent of the guest or other residents of the home, the District has violated the Illinois eavesdropping law, which states in part: “A person commits eavesdropping when he or she knowingly and intentionally … does so without the consent of all of the parties to the private conversation.”

Rath, who has a sixth-grade student who is registered to attend TOOLS, a program to help sixth-grade students adjust to being in junior high, was previously told by administration that her son would not be able to attend if she had not completed all parts of the online registration.

Hennesy, who has been asking questions about the Chromebooks since the board began talking about in last November, met with Mahomet-Seymour Junior High Principal Nathan Mills and M-S Superintendent Lindsey Hall yesterday morning and afternoon.

Like Rath, Hennesy registered her child online, filling out the required sections, but bypassing the Technology Acceptable Use Policy by logging out of the Skyward system, then logging back in and restarting registration on a different requirement.

Although Hennesy had been told by district administration that she could not register her child for school without signing the agreement, Hennesy left the meeting yesterday afternoon assured by Dr. Hall that her children were registered for school.

Hennesy also left the meeting with updated information that the school had been working on ways for students to charge their devices during school hours and was assured that the student would not be punished if the device was not charged.

Shortly after the meeting, Hennesy received an email from Lincoln Trail Principal Jeff Starwalt stating that her child was not registered for school, and would not be placed in classrooms and will not be allowed to begin school on August 17.

“Skyward does not see me as registered because I am not going to click the boxes that say I agree to a policy that I don’t agree to,” she said.

“So I’m not sure where the disconnect is, and I would like to know what’s going to happen. Is he registered? Is what I have done sufficient or not?”

According to the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice statements on public education, “All children in the United States are entitled to equal access to a basic public elementary and secondary education regardless of their actual or perceived race, color, national origin, citizenship, immigration status, or the status of their parents/guardians. A public school must enroll any school-aged child who lives in that school district, including homeless students and undocumented immigrants.”

Mahomet-Seymour Board President Max McComb read a board statement after parents shared their concerns Monday.

McComb said the first time the board was made aware of a problem was Friday afternoon, and on Monday, the district had their attorneys draft a solution.

“First and foremost, we are completely aware of our legal and ethical obligation to enroll all students who legally reside within our school district or those who are homeless.  We welcome any and all students, and all students can start school on time, including participation in the TOOLS and GRIP program.”

The board presented two options for parents who want do not want to sign the Responsible Use Agreement or who have already registered their children without reading the documents before signing.

Option 1: “Complete the online registration process, and then sign another document provided by the school district which acknowledges your disagreement with the policies.  Specifically, this document says:

The online registration system requires me, as a parent, to acknowledge acceptance/agreement of the Student/Parent Handbook and Responsible Use Policy for Technology for Mahomet-Seymour CUSD #3 in order to register my child for the 18-19 school year. The purpose of this document is to acknowledge my disagreement with those policies, with the understanding that this signed document will be placed in my child’s record. I understand that the district has the legal authority to uphold these policies, and I acknowledge that I am aware of the policies.

This document, approved by the district’s legal counsel, will be available in all school buildings starting (Tuesday).   This supersedes the “agreement” being checked off in the online registration platform, and as stated, will be placed in each child’s record so that the parent’s disagreement with our policies is duly noted.”

Option 2: “Do not register your child online.  Your child can still start school on time, and, if in grades 6 through 12, your child will still receive a Chromebook.  Please know that not completing the online registration process could result in not having current and up to date information in Skyward for your child and your family. This course of action has several unknown outcomes, as again, our modality for registration is online.   In not registering your child online, your student is still responsible for following the board approved policies, guidelines and handbooks that are in place and that have been approved by the Board of Education.”

McComb also said, “In terms of the Chromebooks being brought home by the student, one piece that confuses me tonight is there seems to be concern that we have the ability to turn on video and audio at home. I’ve asked repeatedly of our tech staff, they say we do not have the ability to do that, we do have the ability to monitor what websites students are going to and whether they’re completing assignments or not, we do not have the ability to turn on video or audio at home, nor would we ever want to.”

The statement also reads, “It is not necessary for parents to agree or accept these policies for the board to follow them.  Moving ahead, we will be updating the online registration process to reflect that parents have seen/are aware of the policies.  This change will take place next year, when parents register their child for the 19-20 school year.”

The district claims that it cannot make changes to Skyward at this time, as registration is already underway.

McComb said the Responsible Use Policy, as well as the Student/Parent Handbook, will be reviewed through the appropriate channels in the spring of 2019. Suggested changes will be reviewed, considered and possibly adopted by the board for the 19-20 school year.

Hennesy would still like to see the district adopt a Responsible Use Policy that parents can feel good about signing and one that will be enforced consistently.

“I’m not opposed to signing a policy, but I want it to be a common sense policy.”

“If we’re not going to practice what the policy says, then it seems to me that the policy is incongruent with what we need to be putting out there for parents to sign and agree to. I’m not going to sign something, and then be told, ‘well, you don’t really have to follow it.’ That doesn’t make sense to me.”

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