Whether by design or not, a proposed Wake County school policy change could ban students from taking pictures of themselves and others in school.
One of the revisions to the school district’s technology policy would prohibit students “from taking pictures or videos with any device unless directed by a teacher.” The wording comes at a time when “selfies,” self-portraits usually taken by cellphones with cameras or webcams, have become a staple of youth-driven social media.
Several Wake school board members questioned the wording on taking photographs when the changes to the technology policy were discussed last week by the policy committee.
“We know that kids have phones in school and are using them,” school board member Monika Johnson-Hostler said in an interview. “We need to be clear and cautious about what we say about using personal devices.”
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School administrators repeatedly told board members that they will speak with the board attorney who drafted the wording to see whether more changes are needed.
Administrators said district policy should be updated to reflect the way technology is used today, compared with practices when the wording was last revised in 2010. This includes acknowledging that North Carolina’s largest district is piloting a bring-your-own-device program that would allow students at 13 schools to use their smartphones, tablets and laptops in class.
Teachers must approve
One of the changes, which would affect all 171 schools, is the requirement that teachers give permission for pictures and videos. It’s part of a section on inappropriate use of technology, which warns against things such as producing, posting and sending inappropriate or offensive material.
School board member Jim Martin, chairman of the policy committee, said it makes sense that Wake could require students to get a teacher’s permission before using a district-owned device to take photographs and video. But he questioned how it could be applied to a student’s personal device.
“I don’t think we can say you can’t take pictures with your personal phone,” Martin said. “Kids are taking selfies in the lunchroom all the time.”
David Neter, Wake’s chief business officer, said he thinks the intent was to restrict unauthorized photos and videos in classrooms as opposed to lunchrooms. But board members said the policy makes no distinction between the two situations.
School board member Bill Fletcher said it can be helpful when students take pictures of fights that can be used by the district to find out what happened.
But Cathy Moore, deputy superintendent for school performance, said it can be unhelpful when students post videos of fights online.
School board member Kevin Hill questioned the enforceability of the photography rule, considering how the technology policy says students must comply with it when using any district technology or personal devices on school grounds and at school-sponsored activities.
“Yeah, I’m going to be walking through the stands of a football game to see who is taking selfies,” Hill said.
Hill suggested changing the rule to apply during the school day or during instructional use.
“School-sponsored activities to me are just wide open,” said Hill, a former principal. “I don’t know how to solve it, but if I were a principal I’d be looking like, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ ”
Neter said administrators will talk with Deborah Stagner, a board attorney who drafted the language.
An ‘equity issue’
Board members had less concern about another change proposed by Stagner of how consent is handled for using school technology.
Wake assumes students have consent unless their parents say they want to opt out. But Neter said Wake plans to switch to an opt-in model where parents need to give permission before their children can use school technology.
Neter said the reason for the change is that Wake plans to use Google Apps, a suite of software tools that allow students to share content. Neter said most districts that use Google Apps use an opt-in model.
This means parents of all of Wake’s 155,000 students would likely be asked to give consent next year. Neter said it would be a one-time process for each student, with permission assumed to continue annually.
Martin, the board member, said Wake needs to check with parents who don’t give consent. He called it an “equity issue” to make sure that students aren’t denied technology access because their parents forgot to fill out the paperwork.
Martin said some parents may feel strongly about their children not having access to a device, which could be used to reach inappropriate material. The downside to requiring parents to opt in, however, could arise if some parents simply fail to take steps that would allow their children increased opportunities for learning, he said.