California Educational Data Processing Association
The DataBus - Vol. 36, No. 6
Conference Edition, 1996

Students Told to Abide by Rules of the Superhighway

Guidelines: Administrators say acceptable-use policies for Internet lay out what's expected of kids, prepare them for situations later in life.

Michelle V. Rafter

When new students show up for the first day of school at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School in September, they'll get more than class schedules and locker combinations.

Incoming freshmen and students transferring to the central Los Angeles campus will receive a handbook spelling out what they can and can't do on 400 school computers connected to the Internet.

Using the worldwide network to research class projects, send e-mail or explore other computer systems is OK. Sharing passwords, pirating copyrighted software, sending profanity-laced e-mail or using the system to sell something is not.

Before their first Internet excursion, students must study the guidelines, take a quiz and have their parents sign a permission slip. Break the rules and they could temporarily lose their accounts or, in the gravest cases, be kicked out of school.

Francisco Bravo is typical of schools throughout California and the nation that are requiring students to abide by rules when traveling digital expressways to libraries, databases and educational materials on the Internet.

School administrators are devising Internet acceptable-use policies, or AUPs, so students know what to expect when they go online and what type of behavior is expected of them.

"They better have one before they let students onto the Internet," said Andy Rogers, the Los Angeles Unified School District's Internet project coordinator.

Why? Rules teach students that standing codes of classroom conduct extend into cyberspace, Rogers and other administrators said. Guidelines are also necessary at some schools to warn students that software filters aren't used to block potentially questionable material on the World Wide Web and other parts of the Internet.

Filters aren't widespread because "with a community as varied as Los Angeles, what some might find to be objectionable others will not," Rogers said. The one exception is Usenet newsgroups: Most schools receive electronic discussion group feeds from educational services that automatically block access to "alt." Newsgroups, a major source for X-rated material.

Universities helped incubate the Internet before it reached its present status as a quasi-mass medium, and college students and staff people have lived within the confines of AUPs for years.

But guidelines are a newer phenomenon at elementary, middle and high schools, which got a later start hooking up classrooms and computer labs to the Internet. In some cases, school districts have had policies on the books for a year or two but are just now starting to disseminate them as individual schools scrape together money for computers, modems and phone lines.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, has had an AUP for several years but has issued Internet accounts to only 13,000 of its 28,746 teachers and 649,054 students; the total number of students and teachers using the Net is higher because some students use their teachers' accounts.

Among other things, the district's AUP warns against using obscenities, re-posting e-mail without the author's consent, copying software and using the network for illegal activities. It also warns, "Some of the information available is controversial and sometimes may be offensive." The policy, which was drafted by a team of teachers and technology specialists, is used as a model in a booklet on school Internet guidelines created by the Clinton administration's National Information Infrastructure industry advisory council.

But not all AUPs are alike. Some, such as the technology usage policy devised by the Grossmont Union High School District in eastern San Diego County, are pages long and go into explicit detail about what is and isn't allowed. Others are a couple of short paragraphs.

Schools also differ in how they teach students about Internet guidelines. Grossmont, with 22,000 students in 10 high schools, includes its guidelines in a mandatory freshman computer course. Other schools leave it up to teachers to issue policies as needed Once a student has learned the ropes, it's common for schools to stamp his or her student ID card "Internet approved" or something similar, granting unlimited access to Internet workstations in classrooms, libraries and computer labs.

Kids don't seem to mind going by the book when they go online at school.

"The AUP is there for the good and protection of students and staff. I've bent the rules only a little, and my friends also stick to the rules," said Marissa Darden, 15, a junior at Canoga Park High School.

"My parents and I signed a paper stating that we will follow all the rules, and I intend to do that," said Lalit Bhambhani, a 17-year-old senior at John F. Kennedy High School in Granada Hills. "After all, I don't want to [lose] my account."

Most kids are careful not to jeopardize their access, teachers and administrators said. Most, but not all. At Francisco Bravo, with a student population of 1,680, three students have been expelled in the last three years for Internet infractions, said Less Higger, the school's computer network administrator.

One student was asked to leave after stealing software. Higger wouldn't comment on the other two. A fourth student was reprimanded after he started selling a software program he'd written.

Since Grossmont Union put its computer technology usage policy in place three years ago, four students have been suspended for breaking the rules. "We also had a couple of students destroy programs on two computers, and they were held responsible for paying for the computer technician's time for repairing those, which amounted to about $200 each," said Warren Williams, the district's technology and computer services director.

Saddleback Valley Unified School District, with 32,000 students in 35 south Orange County schools, took away one student's Internet access and transferred another after they sent "inappropriate" e-mail messages to teachers, said Norm Neville, the district's technology specialist. He declined to elaborate.

Schools are also adopting AUPs to limit their legal liabilities. Internet usage rules offer some protection should students engage in potentially harmful activities while online, experts said. Without the rules, schools are asking for trouble, said Nancy Willard, a Eugene, Ore.-based consultant and author of "The Cyberethics Reader," which is due out in September.

"The worst-case scenario would be if a student got involved with an online stalker and met them in person" and was molested or worse, said Willard, who worked as a teacher and lawyer before helping schools write AUPs.

"If there was evidence the school knew or should have known something was happening and had given no instruction to the students about the potential dangers of meeting someone, there would be potential liability," she said.

Do AUPs really stop kids from nosing around Web sites they shouldn't? Probably not, Willard said. "How many guys you know have snuck a peek at Playboy?" she said.

But policies can teach students discretionary skills they'll need on the job. "Most of them will go into the work force, where they'll have Internet access through their company," Willard said. It's important for them to recognize that won't be their private account and what they say on it reflects on their company or government agency and therefor those [groups] have a requirement to have some level of control.

Michelle V. Rafter writes Internet columns for Reuters and the Chicago Tribune.

This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times Orange County Edition on August 26, 1996. Reprinted by permission from the author.

Copyright 1996, Michelle V. Rafter. This article may not be reprinted without permission from Michelle V. Rafter. Contact her at .

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