Coronavirus and Schools: Video Conferencing with Students Q&A
In light of the COVID-19 school closures, we’ve been fielding numerous questions about teachers videoconferencing with students. Rather than blast each question out the tech pool, we’ve complied the most frequent questions and answers below for the benefit of the entire tech pool. A separate pool opinion is being issued at the same time with Q&A specifically as it relates to Zoom.
Q: Is it legal for teachers to videoconference directly with students, even if they are in their own home?
A: Yes – this is legal.
Q: Isn’t it a privacy violation if other students can see inside another students’ home?
A: No – not a violation of any law or constitutional provision. If it makes a student or parent uncomfortable, they can be encouraged to set the video conference up so that only the student is visible, sitting in front of a wall.
Q: Should videoconferences be recorded?
A: We recommended that videoconferences not be recorded. Recordings raise potential FERPA access questions and potential labor concerns.
Q: Our teachers are expressing reluctance to do videoconferencing in case they see child abuse or other problematic conduct in the background. Is that a legitimate concern?
A: This is similar to saying that teachers shouldn’t talk to students at all, for fear they will disclose child abuse. While mandatory reporting obligations continue into online education, it is unlikely that most teachers will encounter this type of scenario. If it makes teachers uncomfortable that they may see something in the background, teachers can encourage students to sit in front of a wall so that nothing is in the background.
Q: Is it a FERPA violation for parents to see the other students in a special education class or group?
A: No – no student records are being disclosed. This is similar to a parent walking through a school building and seeing students engaged in learning with a special education teacher. This does not violate FERPA.
Q: Do school districts have to provide internet access and devices for students to access videoconferencing?
A: It depends. If the district is providing optional online learning opportunities and resources to ensure continuity of education, you do not necessarily need to provide devices and internet connections. However, not doing so increases the disparity between the haves and the have-nots because those who need continuity of education the most will not have access to the district’s online learning resources. On the other hand, if you are moving to online learning entirely, as a mandatory way to continue education for all students in the district, you must ensure that every student has access to a device and internet to provide equal access. Note that ensuring that each family has a device is not sufficient if you’re expecting multiple students from the same household to be educated online at the same time. Each student needs to have a device with an internet connection (can be a shared internet connection) where instruction in mandatory during certain hours.
Q: If we provide an internet connection to some students who don’t have one (such as a wireless hotspot), do we have to reimburse families who don’t get one for part of the cost of their internet?
A: No – this is not required.
Q: If we provide an internet connection to students, must we filter that internet connection?
A: No, not unless the internet connection is provided through E-rate funds. CIPA only requires that E-rate funded connections be filtered. You certainly may choose to filter the connection, but it is not required unless funded by E-rate. If you provide an unfiltered internet connection to a student, it is recommended that you advise parents that they are responsible for supervising the use of that unfiltered connection in the home, and that the district’s AUP still applies requiring the appropriate use of all District technology.
Q: Does videoconferencing have to be accessible for individuals with disabilities?
A: Yes – if you are providing an online learning environment through either optional learning resources OR through mandatory online learning, you must ensure that all of the resources provided are accessible to students with disabilities. Deaf and blind students, students with seizure disorders, and other related disabilities have the same right as other students to access online learning content. Documents that are provided along with videoconferencing lessons must also be accessible.
Q: Can we use copyrighted materials in a video conference session an on a shared screen or does this violate the copyright?
A: In an educational video conference that is only open to students/parents in their homes for educational purposes, it is permissible to use and share screens of copyrighted material without violated the copyrights to those materials.
Q: Is it legal for a teacher to take a screenshot or photo of students engaged in online learning and to post it to social media?
A: This is not a violation of any law or privacy right except in the rare instance where a parent has opted the student out of sharing FERPA directory information. However, since nearly all school districts use a media release form to let parents decide when students may appear in photos online, those releases govern photos of online learning also. Teachers should ensure that any students who have opted out are not depicted in photos posted publicly.
Q: What if a parent takes a screenshot or photo of students engaged in a video conference and it includes students who have declined the media release?
A: This is not a violation of any law or privacy right. This is similar to a parent taking photographs in the classroom during a birthday celebration and posting to social media, or when a parent takes a video at a school concern and posts to social media. The district does not have an affirmative obligation to prevent parents from taking photographs of students in the classroom – whether the classroom is virtual or not.
Q: What if a student curses or shows inappropriate material to the video conference? Can the teacher mute the student and/or kick him/her out of the conference?
A: Student discipline is handled the same way in an online environment as it is in school, even if the activities are optional. If a student’s behavior is inappropriate, it should be brought to the attention of the administrator. Wherever possible, schools should refrain from kicking students out of the online classroom just as they would in a physical classroom. But if the student is overly disrupting the learning process, the student can be removed and referred to administration, just as they would in the physical classroom.
Q: Can we required that students wear appropriate attire for videoconferences?
A: Yes – you should set expectations both for students’ attire and for students’ conduct for video conferences.