Thursday, August 12, 2010

Web Publishing Policy 5095

(Usual disclaimers. I speak for myself, not the entire School Board. Your mileage may vary, etc.)

At the School Board's August 10th regular meeting, by a 3-2 vote, the Board approved changes to its Web Publishing Policy 5095. (Benton, Kiesel and Bresner for, Mester and Katchis opposed.) This is not simply a wonkish change to an obscure policy. This change has significant implications on student privacy rights. Before I elaborate on my reasons for voting "no", it is important to note that in my four years on the School Board, this is the first time I can recall there being a 3-2 vote. While there have been several 4-1 votes, rarely is the Board this split on an issue.

First let me outline the issue as I see it. In its simplest terms it is "opt-in" versus "opt-out". One of these methods is the default that to change requires proactive action. An example of this would be when you sign up for a website, they will send you "special offer" emails until you "opt-out". You must proactively tell them to stop. Or, they send you no emails until you proactively "opt-in" or ask for emails.

But not every case is that simple. In the case of the school board the issue is not emails, but privacy. More accurately, student privacy and who has the rights to use that student's image and classroom work product. What is the District's (Board's) policy about publishing student photos, class room work product, video and artwork? Up until last night, the policy was opt-in. In order for us to use a student's image or work, even without a name, we had to have that student's parents permission.

Last night we went to a two-tiered system. We will remain opt-in for the cases where we want to use full first and last names on a district wide website, and first name and first initial of last name in a password protected classroom website. We will now be opt-out if we want to use without names or identifiers a student's pictures, videos, artwork or even classwork. That is, we assume the right to use those unless you tell us otherwise. As long as we don't use a name or identify the student we can use that work anyway we see fit on the web.

This is the new section of the policy:

Examples of student work which does not identify the student (such as artwork, written work or verbal statements) may be published on the web unless a parent/guardian or eligible student indicates in writing that they do not consent.


Photos and videos of students without names may be published on the District or school websites unless parent/guardian or eligible student refuses permission in writing...

So why did I vigorously oppose this change and vote no? First let me start with the assumption that once published on the web, it is in the public domain forever. Just as you cannot unring a bell, it has been shown that once published on the web, with caching and mirror sites and people simply copying and pasting whatever we put up will live on somewhere on the web.

By making it opt-out rather than opt-in by default, we are making the decision to potentially post items on the web without informed consent*. If a parent does not check off a box and return a form sent prior to the school year, that parent is essentially agreeing to let us use their child's likeness and work product as we see fit (without names or identifying information).

One example of the type of potential item we can post is a child's classroom work. We could now, for example, redact a student's name from a test and publish that test on the web as an example of good or bad work. We can film a student in a classroom as they work to learn some skill and publish that on YouTube as long as we don't identify that student and that student's guardian has not opted-out. We could take a elementary school book report and publish that with name redacted. Previously, before we would post something like that on the web we would have to ask for permission from the student's parent or guardian.

This policy has changed the rules from, we ask before we publish to we publish unless you proactively returned a form at the beginning of the year and told us not to. In fairness, presumably you may opt out at any time.

Why did we make the change? The answer I have received to that question is because it is easier for us to be able to post pictures and such on the web. As told to me at an earlier public meeting, previously we had to get permission from everyone in a picture before we published and that was time consuming and difficult. Parents would not respond. I do not in any way doubt that to be true; it is time consuming and difficult. Parents have so many other things to worry about that maybe this is not a priority to respond.

With this change, we do not need the permission, we presume to have it. Why do we need to publish student pictures and classroom work on the web? For learning purposes. To be able to demonstrate certain teaching techniques and methods of evaluation and learning. We would love to be able to post examples of student writing. And/or, for marketing purposes. To show what great work we do in the schools.

One of the operational flaws in this change is that it will not significantly reduce the workload. For example, prior to publishing a work of a photo someone still must identify all those in the picture or the work's author and check a database to see if that person opted-out. We will not have to wait for permission now for those that did not opt out. Contacting the parents to ask permission will be the only time and effort saving area.

While I am very proud of the work we do in our schools, I do not think our desire to toot our horn should trump a student's right to privacy. I certainly do not think that we should make this change for our expediency. We have made it opt-out so that we can more easily use student's pictures and work for our benefit. Efficiency over privacy and ownership.

There is no doubt that we as a district are hampered in our efforts to get the word out to the community of all the terrific work being done in our schools. Our teachers and administrators are doing great work in the schools!! I would love to be able to show the district's residents they are "getting their monies worth" for their tax dollars; they are. But not at the cost of privacy rights.

I believe that as a default you own your right to privacy and you own your image and work product. We should have to ask for your permission to waive that right. Name or no name. I do not think that we (the District) should take that inherent right and presume it to be ours unless or until you proactively take it back.

I am opting-out.


*This is not meant as a legal term if there is such a legal term. I am quite confident that the new policy as well as the old is legal and appropriate and within FERPA regulations. That is not the issue.

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