Evergreen Public Schools Doles Out Laptop For Use by Students, Parents

The Vancouver, Wash., school district will give sixth-graders through high school seniors Chromebooks to use in class and take home.

by Katie Gillespie / October 2, 2017 0
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(TNS) -- As Evergreen Public Schools sends its students home with laptops this year, it’s also planning to reach an untapped group of users: their parents.

The Evergreen district begins its 1:1 technology initiative this year, giving sixth-graders through high school seniors Chromebooks to use in class and take home. Next spring, the district plans to give parents their own logins for the devices in hopes of bridging the “digital divide” between families who can’t afford computers versus those who can.

“We want this to be a family tool,” said Derrick Brown, chief innovation officer for the district.

But the district will temporarily maintain — and can review — those parents’ web history, just as it can for their children.

And that, said Bradley Shear, a Maryland attorney who focuses on privacy and social-media law, could be “highly problematic.”

“Unless a parent has no other choice, I wouldn’t recommend them using their children’s school provided laptop, because all of their data may be utilized against the parent and their family,” Shear said.

The district touts the coming effort as a digital equity initiative. Last year, 45.9 percent of the district’s students received free- or reduced-price lunches, a marker of family poverty. District spokeswoman Gail Spolar said the hope is parents will use the laptops to access social services, put money on their child’s meal account or access any number of programs that are best available on a laptop versus a smartphone.

“To buy a new computer is probably going to be low on the list,” Spolar said.

But inappropriate websites — pornography, social media, and businesses that sell alcohol or marijuana, for example — will be blocked, and information about web history will be maintained for 60 days, Brown said.

“It’s not something we go and comb through,” Brown said, but district information technology staff can investigate a student’s web history at any time, according to the district’s student use handbook.

“Students have no expectation of confidentiality or privacy with respect to any communication or access made through district systems and network or on district-issued computers or mobile devices, regardless of whether that use is for district-related or personal purposes,” the handbook reads.

The district has not finalized a guide for parents.

Retaining data

Exactly how long a government agency holds on to web history varies. Washington state public disclosure laws don’t offer direction on how long internet history, including saved passwords, browsing history and cookies, should be maintained, instead directing state agencies to retain the data until no longer needed.

Vancouver Public Schools, for example, keeps student internet history for about four to six weeks, said Steve Bratt, information technology and operations director for that district. After that, the data is deleted.

But district administrators can ask IT to review a student’s web or email history if they expect they’ve done anything inappropriate, he added.

“We have a process that we run periodically to look for common inappropriate search or browsing patterns and flag them for review,” Bratt said. “If it looks like the activity is intentional, we alert the building administration at the student’s school.”

Risky, problematic

Shear, the attorney, recently told Education Week he’s advocating for June 30 to be National Student Data Deletion Day, calling for districts to delete all student browsing history, all emails, all biometric data connected to students’ accounts and other personal data points. Those concerns extend when parents become involved.

“Do schools really want to now become the social media or digital police for parents?” he said. “What happens when a parent does something on a laptop or is able to circumvent the filters. What do the terms look like?”

He worries how that data could be used by districts — or hackers with nefarious intentions.

Take, for example, the recent Equifax breach that left the confidential information of as many as 143 million Americans compromised.

“Can you answer a better example regarding why unfettered data collection is a massive privacy, reputation risk?” Shear asked. “This is very problematic.”

©2017 The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.