Oxnard School District (CA) overreaches on invasion of privacy, freedom of speech

Oxnard School District LogoBy George Miller

“Students waive any right to privacy or confidentiality to material that was accessed, created, sent or stored using Oxnard School District technology or an Oxnard School District provided network account.” – from Oxnard School District 2013-14 Internet and Computer Use Policy- page 13 (there’s more, at the end of this article)

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. – Fourth Amendment, United States Constitution

 

Noel Young of Oxnard was called into a group meeting at Juan Soria Elementary School-where his son is enrolled-  on 10-22-13. He was told that his son would be issued an iPad tablet computing device with Internet capability, which is an integral part of the new program. The policy was explained and Mr. Young was given the above-referenced document to sign. Being a rather savvy individual, he quickly scanned it, did a double take, read it again more thoroughly, then refused to sign it, as he thought it a gross violation of  his son’s and family’s  privacy rights, per the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

He contacted Citizensjournal.us to discuss the situation.  Staff and associates read it and not only shared his conclusions, but noted significant First Amendment free speech violations as well.

Keep in mind that the so-called “Common Core State Standards,” calling for the most far-reaching changes in U.S. public schools ever undertaken, are being rolled out nationally as you read this and involve extensive, integral use of technology/computers/software/networking/web/databases.

 

First Amendment Violations

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” – First Amendment, U.S. Constitution

From under the Oxnard School District Internet and Computer Use Policy heading  “I will use technology responsibly,” some objectionable language was identified, namely:

“I will not intentionally access and/or store inappropriate information, including, but not limited to the following …….material that promotes the use of ….or weapons; or material that advocates participation in hate groups or other potentially dangerous groups.”

The above seems innocuous enough at first glance, until one realizes that:

It doesn’t say improper or illegal use of weapons, but just “promotes the use of… weapons.”  As worded, that would proscribe all mention or depiction of guaranteed Second Amendment rights, or even reference to historical events which involved violence with weapons.   Those who support “politically correct” behavior are trying to stamp out all signs of the Second Amendment- this is wrong and in fact illegal. Many say that children should learn the true facts, law and proper role and use of weapons and to eschew their improper use in society.

“Hate groups” is a very loose/imprecise term, subject to fluid, unpredictable definitions. The politically correct have identified most Christian sects, some other religions, Conservative groups, Tea Parties and more  as “hate groups” because they object to highly untraditional social behavior/policies that violate widely accepted religious or moral beliefs.

 

Can’t use own computer equipment, opt-out?

iPad

Mr. Young said he was told that students must use the school-issued devices and may not use their own equipment.  Note that school  devices are paid for by taxes borne by residents, including parents. We further note that the High School policy doesn’t have similar objectionable terms. Not addressed was what happens if a parent refuses compliance – opts-out—from these demands, either opting to use own equipment or no equipment?  Mr. Young prefers that his son uses and that he alone control his own equipment, with its own security and superior, dual use capabilities. It looks like some new trails are about to be blazed and what they are we will find out soon.

It is possible that most parents might go along with the policy because: they are unaware of its shortcomings, or don’t think to protest, or don’t think they can prevail, or merely don’t bother to object. Some may actually prefer a locked down system and policy for its additional perceived protections, in spite of the obvious rights violations.

 

The rest of the policy is mostly OK

All of that said, Mr. Young believes most of the policy seems acceptable. The District must defend itself from legal liability, help prevent exploitation of children, stay in compliance with the law and regulations (assuming the latter comply with the law), etc.  It is full of excessive legalistic disclaimers and waivers, as well as the aforementioned Bill-of-Rights-offending language. Some of their waiver language could be overridden if the District was found guilty of significant negligence.

Oxnard High School Disrict LogoThe same shortcomings are not evident in the Oxnard Union High School District computer policy (Student Acceptable Use Policy) http://www.ouhsd.k12.ca.us/about/schoolboard/policies/6000/b-p6163.4_Student_Use_Policy.pdf , which appears reasonable and well-written. The Oxnard School District may want to consider immediately replacing the offending document with this one, while apologizing to parents, students and residents for this significant legal gaffe.

Oxnard School District Superintendent Dr. Cesar Morales (805) 487-3918 [email protected] did not immediately return queries about the policy, but Irene Gonzales and later, Catherine Kawaguchi, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services, called on his behalf 10-24-13 to discuss the matter.  Ms. Kawaguchi  emphasized that they “are very focused on student safety,” which is their overriding consideration.  We summarized the objections and pointed out that the Oxnard High School policy is far better written, offers the same protections and that perhaps it should be adopted instead. We were impressed by the professionalism of both officials. CJ will keep readers posted on relevant developments.

On Rights and Waivers

CJ briefly investigated what it means to “waive rights.” While we lack the ability to offer legal advice and urge you to seek counsel if this is ever an issue, what we learned is that:

  • You can’t “waive your rights,” but you can opt not to exercise them in certain instances
  • A legal contract to do so is binding, but that may be voided in cases involving coercion and deception
  • You may be able to rescind waivers in some cases

District policy excerpts:

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Note: Policy © VCOE Task Force, based on work developed by Seattle Public Schools  March 2012

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George Miller is a “retired” operations management consultant and a Citizen Journalist, active in civic affairs, living in Oxnard.

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