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Student Monitoring by Schools, is it Really Necessary or Far Too Controlling?
January 25, 2014
Amanda Marie
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Incidents of cyber-bullying among students are not only on the rise, they’ve become a constant situation that schools, parents, and authorities are dealing with. It all comes down to decisions on how to prevent it, how to stop it if it’s happening, and what to do about it after the fact. Schools are also using other methods to monitor student activities such as RFID tags, software, and GPS devices, all of which are in addition to using security cameras. The use of human hall monitors is practically extinct. Any discussion of trusting parents to teach right from wrong is quickly thrown aside, and the use of available technology for schools to rely on is causing increased arguments for both sides of the debate regarding student monitoring. Some parents are in favor of it, many are not. Students claim that they are now in prisons, not schools, and that they are feeling like every move they make is being watched by someone, or something. Teachers and other school staff feel like they need more to depend on, hence the use of any and all available technology. All of this raises the question of how much monitoring is too much?

The Guardian points us to slang translation software made by Impero, which assists teachers in monitoring online activity when looking for common slang used by students related to possible cyber-bullying or suicides. The software is currently being used by more than 1,400 schools in the U.K. Impero states that they have worked with the Anti-Bullying Alliance to create the constantly updated dictionary in the software which deals with sexting, suicide, grooming, self-harm, adult content, eating disorders, bullying and trolling, racism and homophobia.

The first use of RFID Tagging technology in U.S. schools was in Texas in 2004, to record when students got on and off the bus. It was first implemented in the U.K. in 2007 for attendance tracking, and due to privacy concerns, the trial was stopped. Two colleges in the U.K. used the method for real time tracking, but that was halted in 2013 after receiving a series of Freedom of Information requests. In 2012, one student’s refusal to wear the device got her suspended from school which resulted in a court case. Both the girl and her parents claimed the RFID policy at the school was a violation of her First Amendment rights. They said her refusal to wear the badge was based on religious beliefs. The student lost her case in court and was forced to attend another high school.

Due to repeated incidents of students skipping class, one school district in California began a testing program with GPS Devices. Many parents as well as students were not in favor of using the technology, despite the serious issue of students choosing fun over classes whenever they felt like it. GPS tracking is currently being used in other high schools. Due to the success seen by the use of GPS at some high schools, others are viewing a different reason for wanting schools to use them. Some strong GPS supporters would like to see elementary schools use them as a means of safety and security for younger children at school.

Cyber-bullying, truancy, crime, and other student related behaviors are always of great concern for both parents and school officials, but not everyone can agree on the monitoring stances that are being taken by some schools. The debates over monitoring continue to heat up as the students rebel against it, parents remain divided on how to handle it, and schools say they have no choice. Do schools really have other choices, though? Are they providing parents with enough information to alert them to specific issues at a certain school prior to implementing monitoring for all students? Are students spending too much time online, and if so, why aren’t parents monitoring their activity more closely? These questions and many more are being discussed non-stop in school districts globally. There seems to be no tell-tale way to distinguish between what’s right and wrong in many of these situations.

The use of cell phones at school is a somewhat separate issue and most schools have banned them during class hours so that talking, texting, taking pictures and video recording does not interfere with classes. There have been many student privacy violation cases brought forward as a result of cell phones being used by other students in a spying and vindictive manner, obtaining certain media to post on social sites without permission from the subjects. Students, however, are fighting back by claiming it’s a two-sided phone argument and that phone use is advantageous for them to be able to prove when a teacher is acting inappropriately in a classroom.

And so the arguments continue with no end in sight.

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