A recent BBC news story reported that a seven-year-old boy with leukemia who cannot attend school in person will attend virtually using an AV1 robot. The story reminds us of some of the benefits of using virtual technology for students with special needs, such as keeping the student safe while allowing him to feel a part of the classroom. Franczek attorneys Kendra Yoch and Jennifer Smith will be leading an interactive discussion about team decisions regarding the use of technology at the upcoming IAASE conference this week in Springfield. But once a team decides that a virtual technology is appropriate for a student, what legal risks should they consider? As with most technology issues in the school realm, the risks are manageable but should not be ignored. For a quick checklist of five issues to consider if a team decides a student should use virtual technology in the classroom, continue reading!

What are some of the key issues to consider before using virtual technology with students with disabilities? Here are five key considerations:

  1. Remember Student Privacy. If the technology audio or video records the classroom, be cognizant of student records concerns under FERPA or state laws, like Illinois’s School Student Records Act. OCR has taken the position that under Section 504, student use of a recording device cannot be conditioned on a release from other students in the classroom or the parents of those students. Fairfield-Suisun (CA) Unified School District (OCR San Francisco Mar. 30, 2012). That does not mean that the rights of other students can be ignored. Consider notifying other students/parents that a student will be recording in the classroom, implement behavioral expectations for the student about when and how the recording device can be used—preferably through a written agreement with the student and parent(s)—and enforce strict rules prohibiting recording outside of the classroom. Such an agreement is particularly important if the student can take technology home.
  2. Control Who Views a Live Feed. Even if there is no recording, if technology transmits a “live feed” of the classroom to a student in a remote location, who will be watching the recording at the other end of the line? Although student records concerns may not be implicated because there is no “record” created in a live feed, privacy considerations may still come into play, especially if there is not some level of control by the school over who is watching the feed. Deal with such issues in your written agreement with the student and his/her guardian.
  3. Reduce Hacking Risks. Consider security controls to prevent an outsider hacking into the technology. You put together stories about baby monitors with live internet feeds and the fact that even 12 year olds reportedly can hack their school districts, and you can see why security is a top concern for our legal team (and should be for school leaders, too). If the technology is operated internally, work with your information technology team to implement any necessary protections. If the technology is operated by an outside vendor, have legal counsel carefully review any agreement or terms of service with the company to confirm that security is top notch. Look for terms that address the outside company’s required security measures and what the company must do in case of a security breach, among others.
  4. Limit Vendor Use of Data. For technology operated by an outside vendor, what data, if any, does the company operating the technology see or retain? By now, we’ve all heard reports of the risks of misuse of data by education vendors. A careful review of the contract or agreement with the company should be sufficient to allay many such concerns. Demand terms that prevent the company from using student data for any purpose other than those outlined in the agreement and that are beneficial to the school district and the student.
  5. Consider Labor Issues. Finally, what notice should be given teachers and staff (and their unions) about the use of technology in the classroom? In our experience, any recording or transmission of the classroom can lead to raised antennas by teachers and their associations. Just like with notification to parents and students, however, notification of teachers and their representatives should not get in the way of providing students technology that their team determines is necessary to provide a free, appropriate education.

We look forward to continuing this ed tech discussion with you at IAASE! Kendra and Jennifer will be presenting Too Much Technology? Addressing Legal Concerns Relating to the Use of Technology with Students on Thursday, February 21 at 11:30 a.m. [Although Franczek attorney Jackie Wernz was to present with Kendra, the ice got the best of her and she is home with a broken leg.] We will look forward to seeing you there!