Public Schools’ Digital Policies Are Ripe for Persecuting Conservative Students

Stephanie Lundquist-Arora & Harry Jackson | April 17, 2024

(American Thinker) — In February, a Fairfax County high school student read the news on his school-issued computer as Congress considered a bill authorizing $95 billion in foreign aid. Coming from a military family and having interest in serving our nation in the military himself, the student clicked on a Wikipedia link to the AK-47, a weapon mentioned in one of the articles he had been reading. An avalanche of harassment and prejudice against the student followed. This particular case provides a clear insight into the problem with public school districts’ Orwellian digital policies. These vague policies lack accountability mechanisms for administrators and teachers, and are vulnerable to implementation biases, particularly against ideologically conservative students.

The student, who had been excused from taking a math test that day, instead spent his time in class catching up on current events. As he clicked his way through the weapons used in the Ukraine-Russia conflict, the ones Americans are helping to buy, the school’s safety and security specialist arrived at the classroom. The student had no idea why he was there, and was surprised when the man called his name to escort him to the principal’s office.

There, one of the assistant principals informed the student that the teacher had been concerned because he was reading about the AK-47 and beckoned the security specialist to remove him from class. The teacher had not asked the student any questions, or redirected him to subject-based instructional material before the security specialist had arrived. Strangely, she had not even been in a position where she could physically view his personal screen.

Many of the district’s students and parents are unaware that Fairfax County Public Schools offers administrators, counselors, and teachers a program called Lightspeed Systems. It is essentially an unrestricted power for multiple school employees to surveille students’ computer screens in real time. While his classmates were taking their test, the teacher was spending her time figuratively watching over the student’s shoulder to see what he was reading.

Lightspeed is a new program in Fairfax County Public Schools and its use has not been codified into the district’s Acceptable Use Policy. An Acceptable Use Policy in a K–12 educational setting outlines guidelines and expectations for the appropriate use of technology resources within the school community. It serves as a framework to ensure that students, teachers, staff, and other stakeholders understand their rights and responsibilities when using digital devices, networks, and online services.

Fairfax County’s public school district follows what is known as a “permissive” Acceptable Use Policy that encourages students’ innovation, autonomy, and flexibility, allowing them to explore new technologies and methods to accomplish their tasks.

A student’s access to Wikipedia and the ability to research weapons used in the Ukraine-Russia conflict within the district’s permissive Acceptable Use Policy environment is neither blocked nor punishable under the code of conduct. A permissive Acceptable Use Policy approach recognizes the importance of digital literacy and the need for students to navigate and utilize the internet and various online platforms as part of their learning process. Access to Wikipedia, a comprehensive and widely used online resource, aligns with this goal. It is therefore unclear why the teacher would have called the school’s security specialist to remove the student from class.