Action Center ➞ Issue Tracker ➞ Your Rights In School ➞ School Climate ➞ Your Right to Privacy
Privacy is the right to keep some things hidden about yourself. Everyone has things they only want some people to know about. All students have the right to privacy. Sometimes people try and keep schools safe in ways that take away student privacy rights.
Here is an example:
A school shooting happens. Some people are dead, and more are injured. The people who work at the school and the students are all very scared. The government of the state where the school is decides this can never happen again. The state government wrongly thinks people with mental health disabilities are more violent. The state tells schools to make a list of all their students with mental health disabilities. The schools do this. Students with mental health disabilities lose their privacy. They lose their right to not tell everyone they have a mental health disability.
ASAN wants schools to be safe. That means we also want students to be able to keep their privacy rights. On this page ASAN will list some of the things schools do that might lead to our privacy rights getting taken away, and what we can do to help schools try ideas that do not take away our privacy instead.
Threat Assessment Teams
The school wants to stop violence before it happens. While this is important, sometimes the school tries to come up with ways to find who the next violent person will be before they are violent. Most of the ways schools have tried to do this do not work and have even hurt people.
Some schools have formed groups of people called threat assessment teams. Threat assessment teams are supposed to look for signs that someone will do something violent and intervene before something happens. This is a good goal, but threat assessment teams can be very bad for students. Here is why:
- Threat assessment teams usually have law enforcement and other people who can arrest people on them. This can scare the student. Police officers may also use force or aggressive language towards students, or arrest them.
- The threat assessment team might be biased against people of color and people with disabilities. This means we might be seen as a threat even when we are not one. A lot of threat assessment teams also investigate when someone doesn’t have too many friends or seems angry a lot – even though these traits do not cause violence. People with disabilities have more of these issues, as do people of color when there are fewer of them in a school.
- Threat assessment teams might think behavior that is not dangerous is dangerous. They might think that behaviors caused by a disability, like stimming or wanting to be alone, are dangerous. They might think that a student having a meltdown is a threat, even though they are just overwhelmed. They might think that things like not making eye contact or making sudden movements are dangerous.
- Threat assessment teams sometimes harass students who are called threats. Being harassed and treated like you might be dangerous can make you very uncomfortable and unhappy. It can make you feel like you are always being watched and suspected. Sometimes, this can be like bullying to the student. It can get so bad the student cannot get an education at that school anymore. ASAN thinks that this is a violation of every student’s right to get an education.
- Here is an example of the problems with threat assessment teams. A student in Oregon was targeted for a threat assessment because he was autistic. He wore a heavy coat. He also did not have too many friends. The school thought this was dangerous even though he had not made any threats ever and had not hurt anyone ever. The student was put under “discrete supervision,” which meant he had to check in and out of school with school staff every day. His locker was opened and randomly searched by school officials. He had to not bring scissors to school, which he needed for theater class. He was followed by cars. The school had meetings with his parents where they said that his teenage love of guns and his clothes meant he was dangerous. He felt so harassed that it was not possible for him to learn. He left public school.
There are better ways to stop violence in schools. Schools could decide to only act when a student makes a real threat. Schools could also focus on making a better school climate for everyone and on teaching students ways to solve problems that are not violent or harmful.
Making positive changes to school climate is better than harming students.
Watching Student Social Media
Sometimes a state decides that the best way to keep its students safe is for schools to watch everything students do on social media. The school uses programs, or works with businesses, to look at everything its students do on social media. The school thinks this will help them figure out if a student is dangerous.
There are a lot of problems with doing this. The first one is that kids need to be able to express themselves to grow into healthy adults, and social media helps people express themselves. If a student thinks the school is watching them, they will express themselves less. Everyone needs private places where they can just be themselves, including kids.
Another problem is that it gives the school too much power over kids. A school has the right to control what kids do in school. But watching what kids do outside school – or inside it, but unrelated to education – might give the school control over that too. This would violate the student’s right to free speech.
Another problem is that schools watching social media might lead to them deciding that someone is dangerous, even when they aren’t. There are many reasons this might happen. Here are a few:
- Sometimes the businesses that help schools use something called an algorithm. The algorithm is a program being run by a computer. It makes mistakes humans do not make. It might say that a student saying the word “kill” is dangerous, when the student is just saying they’d “kill for a soda.”
- Sometimes teachers and school staff do not know what the student really meant. The teacher might see a student threaten a teacher on social media, but the threat is really a joke between the teacher and the student.
School staff should ask other students and teachers about a student if they feel that a student might be dangerous, instead of watching all social media.
Sometimes a state decides that the best way to keep its students safe is to make a list of every student that might be dangerous. State lawmakers then pass laws that ask its schools to help the state create a database. A database is an online list of information.
The database would have personal information about students in it. Personal information can be things like:
- Your name
- Your date of birth
- What kind of disabilities you have
- Whether you ever got treated by a psychologist
- Whether you are LGTBQ
- If you have ever been in foster care
- Whether you get angry a lot
You may not want someone to know all of these things about you. You may want someone to only know about a few of these things. You may want one person to know all of these things and another person to know none of them. It is different from person to person.
Schools often have a lot of your personal information. They use it to make sure you get a good education while you are a student. When a state lawmaker passes a law that says that the schools have to put some of that information in a database, the schools have no choice but to share it.
Many databases are made so that lots of different kinds of people can get into them. Some of these people might be:
- School staff
- Companies that check for threats to the school
- The police
- Social workers
- The U.S. government
You might not want all of these people to know everything about you. It is also easier to hack a database than to talk to a person or get documents from the school. This means that even people the school does not want to get your personal information could sometimes get it!
There is also lot of discrimination in the world. Most people have a few wrong beliefs about people with disabilities. Sometimes, a school or law enforcement officer might think people with some disabilities or people of color are dangerous, even though this is not true. They might think those people are a threat to school safety, even though they are not. They might use the database to find people with disabilities and treat us unfairly. This is wrong and dangerous.
Lots of states are passing laws about databases because they are afraid without databases, schools will not be safe. They need to understand that the database put students at risk. Work with ASAN and other nonprofits to come up with ways to keep schools safe without them sharing students’ personal information. You should also call your state lawmakers and ask them not to pass bills that make schools give information to a database.
Surveillance means watching someone. Surveillance technology is technology that helps a group of people watch other people. It can be things like:
- Security cameras
- Motion detectors
- Technology on computers that helps one person watch what another person is doing on that computer
- Security guards or police officers in schools that watch students
There is no evidence that these methods of watching people keep schools safer. There is evidence that these things make students scared. Students complain about the school watching them more.
ASAN thinks that the school should do things that make violence happen less for everyone instead, like teaching kids how to:
- relate to one another
- control their anger
- not be racist, ableist, homophobic, or otherwise prejudiced
Work with ASAN to reduce surveillance technologies, which make schools worse without making them safer.