Do local school boards write district policy or are their policies written by a private organization, Missouri School Board Association (MSBA)?
Testimony about the safeguarding of student/family privacy in educational settings caused an interesting exchange last week during the hearing for MO HB1873. Sponsored by Representative Guernsey, the bill was written to amend chapter 160, RSMo, by adding thereto seven new sections relating to student data privacy, with an emergency clause and a penalty provision.
Anne reported on the hearing and the data protection currently present in school districts:
Jill Carter of Granby MO testified about a Technology Usage Agreement given to her son for her signature. A casual read of the document seemed to indicate that a parent had to give permission for a child to use technology (computer, email, internet etc.) in the classroom.
“No student will be given access to the district’s technology resources until the district receives User Agreements signed by the student and the student’s parent/guardian. Students who are 18 or who are otherwise able to enter into an enforceable contract may sign the User Agreement without additional signatures”
However, upon discovering that her son was in fact using the school’s computers even though she had refused to sign the TUA, she investigated the whole Usage agreement which also stated:
“Students who do not have a User Agreement on file with the district may be granted permission to use the district’s technology resources by the superintendent or designee“
So basically, parents have no ability to control their child’s access to technology or the internet in classroom. The school’s designee can always trump the parent’s wishes. This is bad enough. Then she read the language at the bottom of the policy:
“A user does not have a legal expectation of privacy in the user’s electronic communications or other activities involving the district’s technology resources including, but not limited to, voice mail, telecommunications, e-mail and access to the intranet, Internet or network drives. By using the district’s network and technology resources, all users consent to having their electronic communications and all other use monitored by the district.”
A school board member from another district also testified that she discovered this same language in her own district’s technology usage policy. No surprise. The language has been copyrighted to the Missouri School Board Association and is widely used by districts all over the state. Check your district’s policy. It’s probably the same.
What Anne didn’t report is that Representative Vicki Englund (who is also a school board member in the Lindbergh School District) questioned the school board member (testifying for informational purposes) on the technology usage agreement. She said to the witness,
You’re the school board member so it’s up to you to change it if you don’t like it.
The witness responded that she was only one of seven board members and she couldn’t make unilateral policy. The comment from Englund piqued her curiosity and she researched if this MSBA policy was prevalent in the districts of the Downsizing Government committee members. Here is her letter to the chairman of the committee as a private citizen:
Dear Representative Curtman,
Thank you for hearing my testimony on Representative Guernsey’s bill HB1873. More importantly, thank you for taking seriously the role of the State of Missouri in protecting the privacy of student data.
I had not intended to testify on HB1873. However, when a mom testified regarding the difficulty she encountered with her local district in trying to opt her child out of technology usage, I decided to testify strictly for informational purposes. The mom referenced a board policy regarding the superintendent’s ability to excuse a child from a technology user agreement. I noted that some members of the committee appeared to think hers was an isolated problem. As a school board member who has read board policy, I recalled that our district policy was similar. So, during the course of testimony, I logged onto my district website and discovered that we did, indeed, have an identical policy. My purpose in testifying was simply to inform the committee that the policy was not isolated. I was not altogether prepared to answer to the assault of Representative Englund on my integrity as a school board member, although I hope I used her questions to urge the committee to do at the state level what I have been unable to accomplish on a local level.
In concluding my testimony, I challenged the committee members to investigate the policies within their own districts, to see whether or not theirs were similar to those of the mom who testified. However, I understand that each of you are extremely busy. Being but a stay-at-home mom of four children, I found the time to research on your (and their) behalf.
Below you will find the fruits of my research. My apologies if I have placed a representative in the wrong school district. Without knowing their exact address, I had to make an educated guess. You will find that 9 of the 14 representatives have a policy identical or near identical to the policy quoted below:
All users must agree to follow the district’s policies and procedures and sign or electronically consent to the district’s User Agreement prior to accessing or using district technology resources, unless excused by the superintendent or designee.
Two representatives had technology usage policies, however I could not discern the details. In three other cases, the websites did not list the Board of Education policies. However, 9 of 14 is quite significant. Further, you might note that 8 of the 9 links begin with policy.msba.net. This reveals that the Missouri School Board Association is either directly or indirectly responsible for the policy.
Ms. Englund suggested that I have the responsibility to change this policy at the local level. She is correct, in theory. In practice, changing board policies is not as easy as she would like for you to believe.
Allow me to digress. Last year our community went through a very difficult set of circumstances with allegations of cheating on the MAP test. The members of our community very much wished to address the board. However, at the time, our board policy stated that only items listed on our agenda could be addressed during public comment. Our board president and superintendent declined to allow the item on the agenda, thereby prohibiting the public from speaking on the topic. Once this issue on whole was resolved, I requested that our public communication policy be revisited. My belief was that openness and communication were paramount at this delicate juncture in our school district, and allowing the public to speak freely would go a long way in reestablishing their trust in our school board. All it would take would be to change our policy back to the previous policy, which allowed the public to speak on any topic, whether on the agenda or not, so long as the speaker followed other protocol
(such as duration of speech, not discussing private personnel matters, etc.) Simple enough, except that our superintendent called the attorneys from the MSBA and one came to our school district on the night of the policy discussion. Her chief aim was to encourage us to keep the current policy which restricted public speech to agenda items. Her reason: If someone spoke on another topic the board COULD be held liable for slander! We asked whether there was case precedent for such a suit to which the attorney said, “No. But it could happen.” Well, when an educated, articulate MSBA attorney tells a bunch of small business owners, bankers, farmers, and moms that they and their school might get sued if they allow full freedom of speech, guess what you get? No change in policy, I’ll tell you that!
So, yes, could each of us go to our respective districts and change the technology usage policy listed below? You bet we could! Or could we? Remember, MSBA was the ONLY other entity (besides the business interest of GOOGLE) to testify AGAINST HB1873! Think about that for a moment. The Missouri School Board Association is testifying against protecting the individually identifiable data of school children. One MUST ask themselves why?
Please understand that school boards today have been told that we have two jobs. One is to institute policy. The other is to direct our one employee, the superintendent. Now consider that we do not do the former job. We do not write policy. If my experience is anything like other districts, we do not even choose our policy. MSBA does this for us. So when Ms. Englund speaks of local control, I could not concur more. But the practicality of the matter is that she is not writing policy and I am not writing policy. When it comes down to it, we may think that we are choosing policy, but the truth is that MSBA is dictating policy, and then persuading minimally educated school board members to adopt those policies. Then, MSBA is lobbying the likes of the Downsizing Government committee, using OUR tax dollars to do it! Something stinketh in the state 0f Denmark.
I am certain that should you wish to consult MSBA, they would have a very valid reason for the policy we discussed, which allows a superintendent to grant access to technology to a child who doesn’t have their parental permission slip signed. It probably has to do with all the kids whose parents forgot or can’t read or what have you. But, the fact remains, that the woman who spoke at the hearing specifically did not sign it because she feared her child’s data would be mined! Yet, her superintendent or designee chose to allow access anyway. Where is the parental consent? Where is the protection for our children in this? Should we have to go to each district in Missouri to demand protection for our children?
I plead with you and your committee that we should not. Privacy is a constitutional right. The rights of parents to direct the privacy of their children is sacrosanct. We need HB1873 to help reassure the parents in Missouri that their children’s data is safe in their districts. Missouri children do not owe their data to anyone. Not Google. Not the Department of Education. They are welcome to one MAP test score a year on my children and not a scrap more.
Please help! And please pass this information along to your committee members. Let them know that most of the policies in Missouri are the SAME! So much for the illusion of local control.
A Missouri Mom of 4 who happens to be a school board member as well
Bill White: Joplin
Paul Wieland:Imperial (Different: Form 6320 page 149/158)
Ben Harris: Hillsboro
Tom Hurst: Meta (St. Elizabeth) pg 338/353
Nick Marshall (Platt County)
Joshua Peters: St. Louis
Chrissy Sommer: St. Charles
Mike Kelly: Lamar
Brandon Ellington: Raytown
Kent Hampton: Malden
Could not locate
Paul Curtman: Meramac
It seems increasingly clear that local control is an antiquated notion and regardless of what Representative Englund states, a board member has little authority to actually set policy for the district in which he/she is elected. You can see how much your district pays to belong to MSBA here.
The amount is based on the budget of your school district. My district (Kirkwood) pays approximately $10,000 for MSBA’s direction and policy decisions. Why do we need a school board anymore? Maybe the education reformers are right. Just turn it over to private organizations directing how tax money is to be used. School board members increasingly are figureheads for private organizations funded by local taxpayers who think they are actually voting for members who set/direct policy for their districts.
Add Kirkwood District to that list of MSBA written policy:
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