24

My school has district laptops for all the students. The laptops have recently been fitted with Classwize, a screen monitoring app which gives the teacher the ability to lock certain apps and/or websites.

I use my own personal laptop and do not have to worry about their looking at my screen. The problem is that several teachers don't like that and are trying to fight the use of personal computers.

I am 18. Do I have any sort of fighting power here, or am I at the mercy of the school district?

4
  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Law Meta, or in Law Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Dale M
    Nov 10, 2023 at 3:19
  • 7
    This is attracting too many answers not citing legal authority - protected.
    – Trish
    Nov 10, 2023 at 15:48
  • 4
    This lacking a lot of context. Can you clarify where and when they are denying you your use of your laptop? In your own home in your spare time seems very excessive, but during classes seems very reasonable. Also, which jurisdiction?
    – user53003
    Nov 11, 2023 at 15:01
  • 2
    It's impossible to answer this without knowing what country you're in. And possibly (if it's a country that has states), which state. Nov 12, 2023 at 0:04

6 Answers 6

72

Do I have any sort of fighting power here, or am I at the mercy of the school district?

If you are at school you have zero leverage. While it might not technically be illegal to bring or use your own device, it is well within your teachers range to fail you if you don't comply with their rules in the class room.

This is nothing new either. You are not allowed to have cheat sheets in tests. If your teachers give you homework of doing the assignment on page 34 of the book, you are not allowed to go through all possible books and pick the one you like best. No, it's the book. Back in the day, we were allowed to use (one language) dictionaries in language class, but only the ones provided by the school, so nobody was getting any benefits by hiding their cheat sheets in there or even rich parents buying fancier dictionaries for their kids. In some tests you may not even be allowed to bring your own pen.

And on a sidenote here. You claim "privacy". Allowing kids and teenagers to bring high definition audio and video recording and playback devices to a classroom full of other minors is a privacy nightmare for any jurisdiction with privacy laws. The school might even be legally required to not allow you any of those devices in the class room unmonitored.

So to sum it up: you have privacy... when you are in private. Your school cannot force you or fail you if you use your own personal laptop for your own personal things in your own personal time. Your school can "force you" (through the threat of failing you if you don't comply), to use exclusively their equipment for tasks you do exclusively for them. Especially if it's on their grounds.

8
  • 11
    And some of this also applies to corporate systems. In particular, company assets are literally in control of the company. Your computer, email, log of every website you visited, the entire network, everything. You do stupid stuff on company machines, they'll absolutely fire you or turn the info over to prosecutors.
    – Nelson
    Nov 10, 2023 at 1:55
  • 3
    I would add that as OP is 18 they probably have the option to leave school altogether. That would sort of solve their issue but of course comes with lots of disadvantages like not getting any degree from the school.
    – quarague
    Nov 10, 2023 at 9:54
  • 4
    @Bakuriu I'm not even from the US. Feel free to write an alternative answer with the laws and regulations of your country.
    – nvoigt
    Nov 11, 2023 at 14:04
  • 1
    And similarly, trying to pass a different assignment as the one actually given can also be done without using tools of your own. (And honestly I find that "doing task 34 from a different book" argument here disingenuous, or straw-manny. FWIW, you could do the same with school-provided books, just use your English book for your maths assignment or whatever.)
    – ilkkachu
    Nov 12, 2023 at 8:37
  • 1
    It would make far more sense to compare using a personal laptop instead of a school-provided one with using personal clothing instead of a school uniform. Even if one accepts school uniforms as a thing, it would seem far-fetch to equate breaking the uniform rules as cheating on the academic part.
    – ilkkachu
    Nov 12, 2023 at 8:40
12

If the issue is purely about whether the school can determine what equipment you use for schoolwork, then the school will usually have reasonable discretion about that.

If the issue is about the manner of the screen monitoring, then you may be on strong ground in insisting that the monitoring is done openly and on similar terms to how a school operating healthily would monitor the contents of paper workbooks.

In other words, a teacher might pace the classroom and look over shoulders when people are working, or they may ask to see the contents of workbooks.

But you wouldn't expect there to be casino-style gantries in the ceiling so that teachers can spy into workbooks unseen, or other kinds of routine hidden snooping or rifling. That would usually be considered highly inappropriate behaviour for a teacher - at least when I went to school. It would have been considered an inappropriate mentality in the way it relates to students and seeks to supervise them.

Even if a school can ultimately override privacy without the consent of the student, and there are perfectly legitimate reasons why they may on occasion, doesn't mean that the override itself shouldn't occur openly.

If this is the root of the issue about the Classwize software on the school-issued device, that it doesn't embed appropriate boundaries in its workings, then you may want to make that argument as justification for retaining a personal device.

Ultimately you may have to persuade and gain consent on the point, rather than insist on any particular rights.

6

You're at the mercy of the school district.

First: as a matter of general principle, the school, like any other business or organization, has the right to decide what devices can access their network and what security standards those devices have to meet. If they decide that that means no devices they don't own, and/or no devices without their monitoring software, you have to abide by that. If you've been using their network, there's a good chance that you've been in violation of some relevant policy for a long time, and they just haven't chosen to bring it up until recently.

Second: as a student in a school you have precious few rights at all. Even if you don't connect your laptop to their network, it's within their discretion to tell you that you can't bring it onto school property at all. They don't even need to have a good reason. They provide laptops, so your own machine isn't something you need. And no, you don't have an expectation of privacy either, so "they spy on me" doesn't prevent their laptop from being an adequate tool for the job.

2
  • 3
    And more than that, any modern laptop will have a WiFi transceiver, as well as possibly Bluetooth or NFC, and so it will be physically able to make attacks against the school's onsite networks. "But I would never install software that would do that" true, you wouldn't. But you're not in control of what software is on your laptop. On a good day, Microsoft is. Nov 10, 2023 at 20:20
  • 2
    @Harper-ReinstateMonica: On top of that, the network administrators are well within their right to deny your laptop access to the network; firewalls and mac address access control filtering isn't illegal either. Nov 11, 2023 at 1:41
6

In all US states besides Texas, obligatory educations laws only mandate that you attend school up to age 18. As long as you are attending school, you have to abide by the rules set by the school, but you can simply drop out of school if it that important that you be allowed to use your own computer and they don't want to allow you to. In Texas, compulsory education extends to age 19.

2

Before asking what fighting power you have, you might want to step back and ask what you're fighting for.

How is this harming me, or people like me?

  • Do I feel exposed in a context where I'd normally expect privacy? (If so, how is that meant to help me or other people? Is there reason to believe it's helping?)
  • Are people like me missing out on benefits or opportunities that everyone should get? (If so, what is it that people like me have in common? Is it something we can change?)

Where is the harm coming from?

  • The school district?
  • The company that makes the surveillance software?

Once you answer those, you can take your big question—what fighting power do you have?—and narrow it down to a more concrete one:

What laws and constitutional provisions guard against this harm?

  • Which ones impose limits on the place the harm is coming from?
  • Which ones offer protection for people like me?

Here are some very non-expert impressions, based on little knowledge and lots of web searches.

What if the harm is coming from the school distrct?

There are legal limits to a school's discretion in setting policies and interacting with students. To help you get a feel for those limits, here are some examples.

Public schools have more discretion to search students than other state and federal authorities, but limits on government searches do apply to them.

  • The Supreme Court ruled that one public middle school violated a constitutional provision—the Fourth Amendment—when it strip-searched one of its students. (Oyez, ACLU.)
  • A district court has forbidden one public university from inspecting a certain student's room through his laptop camera before a remote exam, unless it gets permission or offers a good alternative. The judge declared that for this student, at least, the university's room scan policy violated the Fourth Amendment. (NPR, Teen Vogue, University of Cincinnati Law Review, Northern District of Ohio.)

Anti-discrimination law can be relevant to school surveillance (Motherboard, The Verge), and it puts tangible limits on K–12 schools' rules and practices.

  • A district court has forbidden one K–8 charter school from having or enforcing a dress code provision that makes skirts, skorts, and jumpers the only allowed bottoms for girls. The court ruled that this provision violated a constitutional provision—the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. An appeals court agreed, and told the district court to also think about whether the provision violated a federal law—Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. (NPR, ACLU, ACLU of North Carolina.)
  • In settlement agreements with the Department of Justice, several public school districts have promised to stop holding students in seclusion, and to change their policies on physically restraining students. They negotiated the agreements after the DOJ showed them evidence that their use of seclusion and restraint was exceptionally harmful to students with certain disabilities, which would violate a federal law—Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The DOJ also showed some districts evidence that they were ignoring their own policies and violating state laws about when isolation and restraint can be used. (DOJ, The Spokesman-Review, Alaska Public Media.)

What if the harm is coming from the software company?

There are also legal limits to a tech company's initiative in collecting and selling information about students, but they seem sparser to me. Notice how little the ACLU says about laws or lawsuits in this long report about the industry side of school surveillance.

  • In a class action lawsuit, two California parents have accused a school security software company of collecting and sharing location data and other information from students' phones or tablets without permission. They plan to argue that the alleged data collection violated a federal law—the Video Privacy Protection Act—and state laws about wiretapping. (The Journal, K–12 Dive.)
  • One education platform provider has agreed to pay a fine and accept a court order that forbids it, in various ways, from collecting and storing personal information about children under 13. It did this after the Department of Justice sued it for allegedly violating a federal law—the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act—that protects childen under 13. (FTC, DOJ.)
  • A newer state law, the California Consumer Privacy Act, has some provisions that protect children under 16. I haven't found examples of these being used to protect students.
1

From a privacy and security (technology) perspective, laptops are a conduit to data breaches.

From an academic and ethical perspective, your school is asking you to stop using your laptop because they want you to learn. Using your personal laptop, you can access online content and specialized applications that students using school laptops cannot use or access.

Overall. By using your own laptop, you are trying to avoid being academically challenged by your teachers or professors because you are trying to avoid being blocked from accessing answers you can find on sites blocked by your teachers. In other words, you are becoming dependent of your computer which has unrestricted access to any content.

2
  • 3
    This does not answer the legal situation.
    – Trish
    Nov 10, 2023 at 15:45
  • 1
    @Trish the legal question does not exist the moment OP did not mention if OP was on school grounds versus remote. OP also mentioned the school policies and standard operating procedures apply to all students. If OP wants to use OP's own computer, OP can but OP has to follow the school policies and SOPs. Otherwise, OP wants the benefits but not the obligations (follow policies/SOP). Recall, stackoverflow is not a substitute for direct legal advise. All answers are for educational purposes.
    – Full Array
    Nov 10, 2023 at 16:49

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .