Yesterday a group of teachers from my school district had a very interesting conversation with our Instructional Technology director. We were informed that our use of blogs and wikis fell under COPA rules which are tighter than the CIPA rules that govern school provided internet web pages. As a result we would not have any legal support should anything happen as a result of student use of our blogs and wikis. Has anyone else heard anything similar? Is anyone out there familiar with the similarites and differences between CIPA and COPA? If so could you share your thoughts on this? Thanks!

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Here are the criteria from the COPPA site

They read to me as if you must be collecting information from children - and it looks to lean to the commercial. I really don't believe that according to what I read, we should fall under this act. Others?

f you operate a commercial Web site or an online service directed to children under 13 that collects personal information from children or if you operate a general audience Web site and have actual knowledge that you are collecting personal information from children, you must comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

* To determine whether a Web site is directed to children, the FTC considers several factors, including the subject matter; visual or audio content; the age of models on the site; language; whether advertising on the Web site is directed to children; information regarding the age of the actual or intended audience; and whether a site uses animated characters or other child-oriented features.
* To determine whether an entity is an "operator" with respect to information collected at a site, the FTC will consider who owns and controls the information; who pays for the collection and maintenance of the information; what the pre-existing contractual relationships are in connection with the information; and what role the Web site plays in collecting or maintaining the information.
would it there be a difference depending on whether the blogs were externally hosted as opposed to on the schools server?
The impression I got was there is a difference. We were asked to remove any links to school home pages from our blogs and wikis and no school pages link to teacher sites that are maintained outside of the district server.
Maybe I'm missing something here...what "legal support" would they normally be expected to give?

Clearly COPPA is about commercial websites, which might include some of the popular blog and wiki sites...but not all of them. Any legal action brought by the FTC under COPPA would be directed at the site operator. A school district or teacher has nothing to fear from COPPA unless they are operating a commercial site.

A parent might sue a teacher or school for negligence related to inappropriate experiences in school, but that has nothing to do with COPPA (or CIPA). Telling teachers they will get no "legal support" related to blogging does not remove the possibility of the district being sued alongside a teacher. People need to remember that under civil law, anyone can sue for anything. Seriously. But that doesn't mean all potential suits would succeed in court. We should focus our concern and prevention on things that are truly bad (abuse, negligence, violation of rights); those are the kinds of lawsuits that win, and rightly so.

This is another situation where IT directors need to read the laws, which are fairly clearly written, rather than over-reacting to the fear of liability.
Hi Jeremy,

Thanks fo the reply. I guess the thought of going through a situation like Julie Amero's (the substitute teacher in Connecticut sued by the state for exposing students to pop-up porn) lurks in the back of many teachers minds, especially those of us who work with students under 13. It was my impression that schools that follow the CIPA protect themselves (although nothing is ever 100%) from lawsuits like the one that involved Ms. Amero. Since I operate blogs and wikis off the server I do feel exposed to risks that I wouldn't be if I had those tools available through my districts server. It seems like I have come full circle here! Perhaps teachers like me are in a grey area and neither Act applies to us?
Yes, I have followed Julie Amero's story with interest too. Ultimately, the facts that originally convicted her (and as you know, the original case was thrown out and may or may not be re-tried) were about accusations of willful misbehavior (neglecting her teaching duties to surf the web, going to porn sites herself, knowingly leaving the computer on with offensive material visible, and possibly failing to report the incident to the principal). Now, whether the evidence was shady or not (it seems it may have been), the original conviction was based on her willful action, not simply her helpless inaction in the face of confusing technology. This sustains my faith in the legal system to a certain degree.

While I was doing some research on this topic, I came across an interesting article (from 2003) that basically says admins and teachers assume that courts are more likely to rule against schools than they actually do. Ironically, the area that schools most get slammed on are those of student rights. We may be putting ourselves at more legal risk by being overly restrictive than we would by being overly permissive!

To the best of my understanding, observing CIPA does not protect schools from litigation. In the case of Ms. Amero, which was a criminal and not civil case, having CIPA-compliant filters would not necessarily have prevented what happened, and certainly would not have shielded Amero from liability for her alleged actions. CIPA is an act tied to E-rate discounts for schools and libraries. It is not part of criminal law. Neither is COPA. Both of these laws are enforced by government agencies (the FCC and the FTC, respectively) against institutions/businesses, not individuals, and neither have anything to do with private civil suits. In other words, neither of these laws present a threat (or a safe shelter) for individual teachers, except insofar as their employers make rules based on (often flawed) interpretations of these laws.
As with any technology there are benefits and risks. I like the fact that the Wiki's can have an administrator password. I am currently setting up a series of wiki's on biomes. With only 4 students in each "Wiki" group. they will have passwprds and I will check daily! I wonder if the moodle accounts woul;d fall under the same restrictions, especially if they are hosted by the ISD?



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