Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Why We're Screwed, Part XVII

Two of Miguel's posts today nicely encapsulate the bind. In one post he says:

Skype is blocked in my district. I am often told that it's because it has an uncontrolled chat features. I've decided that such an assertion, while sounding good and rational, is so much baloney.

In another he discusses an inappropriate schoolyard comment in litigious terms:

"Does that seem appropriate to you, to use that term during school? Harassment is determined by how the person who is offended perceives it. If that term had been used in a work setting, there would be serious consequences. How about some diversity or multiculturalism instruction that is respecting of different ethnic groups?"

So, tomorrow, my wife and I are meeting with the headmaster. When we shared this story with another parent in the class--an American of African-American descent--she stated that was a big "no no" and that wouldn't be tolerated if similar terms had been used to describe him. When we shared the story with another Hispanic parent--whose husband is a police officer--she stated that she had encountered the same kind of problem with her son. She stated that we should file a police report.

Regardless of whether or not Miguel is right or wrong in one or both of these cases, they contradict each other. The ostensible legal reason schools need to block Skype is because they might need to produce chat transcripts as part of a civil suit over something like, say, harassment. One can argue that we should just become less litigious, but realistically, that ain't going to happen.


Gnuosphere said...

Miguel: "Harassment is determined by how the person who is offended perceives it."

Harassment is determined by the intent of the perceived, not the opinion of the perceiver. Accepting the above means being rude could be identified with harassment.

Tom Hoffman said...

Yeah, that's a whole other issue in itself...

Kurt Paccio said...

This is similar to the technology director's dichotomy that I've been trying to articulate.

I want to open access to tools such as Skype, and YouTube. I understand their value to education and to educators.

I just don't know how to do that in the litigious society in which we live. The not-so-new federal regulations for civil procedures require schools to archive electronically stored documents such as email, word processing files, etc. Would that include Skype chat logs?

Tom Hoffman said...

I think it is an extreme interpretation of the law to think the school should be accountable for keeping records of every chat transcript coming in and out of the school, but I don't really know, and I'm not sure who does, really.

If you think of the example of Karl Rove doing government business with his RNC email address (unarchived by the govt.) instead of his White House address (archived), does the blame fall on the WH IT staff for not sniffing and archiving that mail? On the IT staff for not blocking his access to that mail account? Or on Rove for not following policy for only using his govt. email address for govt. work? I think it is the third.

Of course, then you have to define "official business" in the school, which is its own swamp, I think, and since most school AUP's essentially disallow unofficial use, you end up where you started, I think.

I would love to see a definitive ruling on this by someone who wasn't just trying to make sure their but was covered or sell security services.

Miguel Guhlin (@mGuhlin) said...

Tom, thanks for pointing this out and sorry I'm so late to the conversation!

I have to agree completely with your conclusion.

Exploring life's contradictions,

Miguel Guhlin
Around the Corner-mGuhlin.net