In the aftermath of 9/11, we’ve seen plenty of attacks on privacy and personal security, and students are not immune to this effect. From RFID tracking to mandatory drug and pregnancy testing, new laws and policies are slowly beginning to creep in and take over the privacy that students have enjoyed in the past. We’ve discovered nine troubling signs that student rights are in danger. If these can slip by, what’s coming next?
- Some students are required to wear IDs:
At Northeast Mississippi Community College, students are required to keep their NEMCC ID badge in plain sight at all times or face warnings and tickets. The administration’s primary reason for the IDs is safety, but the policy raises privacy concerns for students, who cannot opt out of the program. Northeast Mississippi isn’t the only school adopting student IDs, and some are going so far as to include RFID in their IDs to assist with attendance records. Experts believe that this could become a trend in American schools, but some parents are outraged. In at least one elementary school, the push back has been so extreme that the RFID program was terminated due to privacy concerns.
- Students are required to share their contact information with the Armed Forces:
High school students are automatically signed up to share their contact information with the Armed Forces, presumably for recruiting purposes. This is a part of the No Child Left Behind law, and although students can opt out, the parent or student must explicitly request otherwise. Releasing student contact information is viewed as a serious violation of student privacy.
- Mandatory drug testing is becoming more prevalent:
Linn State Technical college, a small technical school with just 1,200 students, has become the first university in the country to make drug testing mandatory for enrollment. Every new student at LSTC is required to take a urine test within their first five to 10 days of the school year, or withdraw from the university. Students are also subject to random testing throughout the rest of the year. The university community has pushed back, asserting that mandatory drug testing is too much of an invasion, setting a dangerous precedent for the ability of schools to regulate students’ lives.
- Pregnancy testing is also a concern:
In one Louisiana public school, female students who are suspected of being pregnant must submit to a pregnancy test. If they refuse to take the test or are found to be pregnant, they’re kicked out of school and forced to pursue homeschooling instead. This policy is in clear violation of federal law, specifically, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 that mandates schools can’t exclude students based on pregnancy or related conditions. But it’s not just this one school with a problematic policy: the ACLU evidence suggests that illegal discrimination is a major contributing factor to the high dropout rate (70%) of teen girls who give birth.
- Educational records can be shared with outside entities:
Schools are privy to lots of sensitive information about their students, including grades, discipline records, income, and even mental health issues. This is the sort of information that most families would prefer to keep private, but new rules allow it to be shared with entities outside the scope of education. That means student information can be placed in state databases without the consent of students and parents.
- Students can be monitored via wiretaps:
The FCC has recently released a campaign that is forcing universities to comply with national wiretapping laws. This means that universities are altering their private networks and the Internet in order to allow for monitoring of Internet usage, instant messaging, and even cell phone texts. Additionally, these mandates allow universities to be subpoenaed for medical and other student records. Previously, universities were exempted from wiretapping due to their private networks, but following the 2001 terrorist attacks the Department of Justice asked the FCC to expand their reach.
- Schools are blocking student access to LGBT websites:
Blocking pornographic websites is a common practice among public schools, but some are taking things a step further, blocking access to LGBT websites that are not at all pornographic. Many of the commonly used web filtering software packages block out LGBT-positive websites that share information about LGBT issues and organizations. These packages do not, however, block out anti-LGBT websites that condemn LGBT people and encourage them to change their sexual orientation. The ACLU has argued that this “viewpoint discrimination” violates students’ rights under the First Amendment.
- Free speech is getting edged out:
On many college campuses, free speech is dramatically limited. Campuses typically have a “free speech zone,” but at some schools, this zone is in a low traffic area so far from the heart of campus that it’s not an ideal location to share messages. At other schools, free speech can be limited to certain days or hours, and even give administrators the right to review and approve of materials before they’re shared. For some students pursuing free speech, these restrictions can keep them from effectively sharing their message. Specifically, at Yuba College in California, students had to apply for permission to speak 14 business days in advance, register literature 48 hours prior to distribution, and are limited to the hours of 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays for public speeches, extreme measures for any student or group wanting to spread the word about their issue.
- Student due process rights are being threatened:
It’s not hard to understand why many college campuses take a hard line on rape, but it’s important to remember that accused rapists have rights, too. Under the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, it was proposed that universities receiving federal funding must allow sexual assault victims to appeal the results of college disciplinary hearings. That means that students accused of sexual assault could be tried twice for the same crime, a “double jeopardy” situation that is not allowed in U.S. courts. This is troublesome and an unfortunate way for presumably innocent accused rapists to be held back from moving on with their lives.