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Can my school force me to use applications or a school-issued computer if I do not agree with the terms of use for that application? I do not trust most of the applications that my school requires me to use because of the way that they handle my data, so I am wondering if they are allowed to force me to use those applications or if they are required supply me with ways to do the assignments in the ways that I agree with (paper and pencil or applications that do not share my data).

Legal Residence: Pennsylvania, United States of America Age and Grade: 8th Grade (I am 13 years old so I believe that COPPA does not apply to me anymore. )

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You're under 18, so you're viewed as a minor under the law, and as such, you can't agree to and sign legally binding contracts. The TOS for the applications are agreed to by your parents by default, because your parents are responsible for you and have no choice in parental guardian-type duties, such as education. Agreeing to the software TOSs may also be done for all student users by the school with their software site license(s) and under an agreement with your parents; ask for and read any written policies the school has.

And, you don't have a say in data handling at your school; that will be another school policy for data and network security, and hopefully a policy exists. If a policy exists, it will set by the school board and it will respect a variety of local, state and federal laws.

That said, you can approach the school board and outline your concerns and ask to take tests and assignments with pencil and paper. But they are not obligated to change policies for you or make accommodations, other than established accommodations required by law, such as under the ADA act.

Once you're 18, you can fight the power. Until then, you're a minor.

  • 2
    A discussion of the implications of the parents supporting the student's position might be helpful. – phoog Nov 4 '19 at 4:08
  • You can't go to court before you are 18 contract wise, but you can agree to follow rules at any age. – Putvi Nov 4 '19 at 16:55
  • @RegionalDirector Your opinion is more useful on politics.stackexchange.com – BlueDogRanch Nov 4 '19 at 17:32
  • To each of you who answered, please site a law which states that telling students to use a program is a contract rather than a school making rules which has been legal for years. – Putvi Nov 4 '19 at 22:08
  • But once the OP turns 18 he or she won't be at school!! So how does the above answer help in any way? What about the rights of the child in UN conventions? The child has NO rights over his or her own education? – Snack_Food_Termite Nov 4 '19 at 22:22
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In the United States, a "terms of service" agreement is handled in the same way as a contract. The manufacturer has decided that anyone who uses the computer is agreeing to a contract with them, and schools can't force you to agree to a contract. Although somewhat counter-intuitive, the school can't compel you to use their computers unless there are no "terms of service" attached. If they try to you have grounds to sue.

In the United States a school can't agree to a contract for you. That's the law. How to handle this situation must be viewed in that context. The fact that a school official thought they'd agree for you isn't enforceable upon you. This is a feature of all U.S. contract law. Under U.S. law there are base expectations of how a contract works. They always apply absent a statute that changes them. The requirement is that the school have a law enabling the school to agree to a contract on behalf of the student and not the other way around. As for answering your question in any kind of a practical sense?

Put simply: Schools have responsibilities to listen to your parents, but most school employees and school board members won't care at all about a student's rights or opinions. If I were you I would be professional, I would have your parents very closely involved, and I would trust them to navigate this for me. There is a saying: "Those who can't do, teach." Although a lot of people mean to do good, often a school official or a teacher goes into the profession because they have baggage from when they were a student, and they want to get to be a petty Napoleon. When disagreeing with school officials you have to know your rights, you have to be able to cite laws at them, and you have to be willing to fight long and hard (including filing a lawsuit if necessary). If your parents are not willing to fight for you then you will probably wind up resigning yourself to representing your own children better some day.

A "terms of service" document is handled by the courts as a contract. (For more information on this, see the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. This is very well-settled law. Using the computer implies that you agreed to the contract, but you have ways out of the contract if you object when the contract is actually being enforced.) Since other answers didn't seem to know how the law works, let's point out a couple of the fundamental parts of contract law as well.

Contrary to common belief, with the singular exception of your parents, there isn't anyone that can agree to a contract for you. Not your school, not your teacher, not any specific school official. The legislature of a state government and the state's school district do not have the same level of authority, and internal policies can't compel your participation in a contract. Contrary to common belief, there is also no such thing as agreeing to a contract law "by default" unless you're an adult who is making a choice to participate in an activity that is optional for you. You are under 18, and you are not participating in an optional activity. The idea that you could be "forced" to agree to a terms of service is a lie. Whoever at your school tried to tell you this was more focused on making their own job easier instead of obeying the law.

That having been said, the sad fact is that most of the time your personal information isn't going to be protected by statute. Your school will probably try to lean on one of the few proactive things they get to do: They have a legally-recognized authority to maintain order, which is not supposed to apply here, but a lot of incompetent individuals like to act like that means they can do whatever they want. Schools have responsibilities to listen to your parents, but most school employees and school board members won't care at all about a student's rights or opinions.

  • In the first paragraph, could you add a citation to a specific federal statute or court precedent to support the statements about schools being unable to contract on behalf of their students and that this is a feature of federal law? I suppose the first is correct, but I am skeptical about the second, since contract law is generally a feature of state law, not federal. – phoog Nov 4 '19 at 17:05
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    Sure. Under U.S. federal law the base expectations of a contract apply here. The requirement is that the school have a law enabling the school to agree to a contract on behalf of the student, not the other way around. I've edited the first paragraph to make that more clear. – Regional Director Nov 4 '19 at 17:39
  • I still don't see how federal law is relevant. For example, the license for Excel 2010 (pdf) says "If you acquired the software in the United States, Washington state law governs the interpretation of this agreement and applies to claims for breach of it, regardless of conflict of laws principles. The laws of the state where you live govern all other claims, including claims under state consumer protection laws, unfair competition laws, and in tort." – phoog Nov 4 '19 at 17:54
  • You can't enforce a contract that would be otherwise unenforceable, no matter how many parties want otherwise. MicroSoft choosing to put a line in the text for venue selection doesn't matter. The school can't agree to a contract on behalf of the kid, so the contract isn't enforceable anywhere. – Regional Director Nov 4 '19 at 17:57
  • I don't doubt that, I only question the relevance of mentioning federal law. – phoog Nov 4 '19 at 17:59

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