Privacy & Safety

School’s Cell Phone Policy Quickly Goes Viral & Has Parents Discussing Privacy, Safety

A mom tweeted about the new policy her daughter's school introduced, which allows officials to read "any text messages between students, even after school hours."

Three kids on their phones. One school's new phone policy that allows school officials to look at te...
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A school’s new cell phone policy that allows officials to read texts between students that occur at any time has parents debating how to balance privacy rights and general safety for their kids at school.

On Friday, Rachael French sent out a tweet about a new cell phone policy being enacted by her daughter’s school: “My daughter’s school released a new cell phone policy that includes, “School officials can read any text messages between students, even if the texts occurred outside of school hours,” adding her stamp of disapproval with a “Nopity nope nope.”

The mother followed up what she told her daughter in light of this new policy. “Your phone is my personal property. If someone asks to read your texts, you tell them to call me and ask.” French brings up a valid point. Most of the time, the parents are the actual owners of the phone, and in most scenarios, police and law enforcement need a warrant to go through someone’s cell phone. Allowing school officials to scan texts between adolescents on cell phone *technically* owned by an adult whenever they deem necessary could lead to tricky legal situations in terms of Fourth and Fifth Amendment violations.

Many parents and educators agreed with French, sharing what they have told their children to do if they are ever asked to had over a cell phone or laptop with a trove of messages and other personal information on it. “Any time a school official wants to question a child outside of something to do with learning, the child should answer “Please call my parents.” That is what I tell my children. Once it is outside the realm of education, the school is in shaky ground as far as I am concerned,” said one parent.

Other parents suggested some tech precautions to take, like removing any face or finger recognition on her phone. “Make sure you practice with her how to refuse and to contact you and to stay firm. Sorry she and the other students have to go through this,” added another parent.

Some educators and parents in the comments supported the policy, noting that the only time school officials would actually go to the extreme of reading through a students’ texts and DMs if it meant keeping a child safe.

However, as one commenter succinctly put it: “It’s very easy to defend a policy if you only assume people will always do the right thing. Unfortunately history has taught us that actually people often do the right thing to serve their own agendas… agendas that often have nothing to do with educating kids.” It is the cart blanche language and complete disregard for parental consent that has many concerned.

Also, many parents pointed out that there are plenty of other ways to get critical information from kids’ texts if there is an emergency or someone is in immediate danger. Parents can send screenshots of conversations. Educators can reach out to parents and ask for permission to see texts between their child and another student if there has been an issue reported. There are ways to address cyberbullying without going through a child’s phone without parental consent.