BOE Talks Policy Changes for COVID-Related Suspension/Code of Conduct and Responsible Use in Video Learning

On Wednesday, Aug. 26, Superintendent, Dr. Kevin Smith and members of the Board of Education‘s Policy, Communication and Alignment Committee met briefly via Zoom to discuss potential policy revisions that would allow the district to better protect staff and students’ privacy, health and safety in reopening. The full Board of Education will discuss these recommended changes at its meeting Thursday evening and possibly act on them.

The policies up for discussion were Policy 6141.321 detailing Responsible Use and Policy 5114 Regulating Suspension, Expulsion and Removal from Class. The new additions Smith and the BOE members suggested reflect advice from the district’s attorneys and policy consultants, while also addressing the Wilton Education Association‘s concern about teacher’s privacy in live-streamed instruction and safety in school.

Responsible Use Policy–Protecting Privacy with Video Learning

The suggested revisions to the Responsible Use Policy strongly emphasize that no one will be allowed to record the audio or video of any live-streamed instruction, in order to ensure teachers’ privacy. Students will also not be allowed to screenshot any instruction to share or for their own use. Any lesson that the teacher does record cannot be shared with other students, and will live on the secure Schoology site under the Wilton Public Schools domain.

Additionally, the policy revision outlined that no one but the students should be observing live instruction in order to prevent anyone else from interfering with instruction. It specifies that only a student should be visible on Zoom when learning remotely and no family members should be listening in. The only exceptions would be for administrators listening in on a call or class as previously outlined in the policy.

The revisions also made clear that learning should continue no matter if there are tech issues, even if teachers or students have to adjust. This recommendation matched what Smith outlined during Tuesday’s special meeting of the BOE explaining that teachers can create backup plans in the event of a Schoology or Zoom malfunction, as he underscored that no technology is ever fool-proof.

As far as students’ privacy, the recommended policy revisions prohibit recording any student interaction component of a lesson. Any part that was recorded and posted to Schoology, such as if a student asked a question during live instruction, would still only be accessible through the Schoology Wilton Public Schools domain and thus would still be secure.

If a student did violate any responsible use policies or the school suspected they did, the school would have permission to search their device.

Once the policy is approved, a word document will be sent out to parents and families explaining the changes to the policy and detailing how staff and student confidentiality will be protected during blended learning.

The terminology in this document was redefined to reflect that onsite and remote instruction would be equal both in expectations and experience. For instance, the terms “school” and “classroom” now also encompass online instruction and learning, and the terminology “in-person learning” was replaced with “on-site” instruction to make it clear that although their physical locations may be different, all students would be working at the same time during a school day.

Smith later added to the policy a reiteration that all technology must be used in accordance with the schools’ acceptable use policies.

School Suspension, Expulsion and Removal from Class Policy

Smith proposed adding a provision to the Suspension, Expulsion and Removal from Class policy that singled out COVID-related behaviors, calling for any action that jeopardizes any community or school member’s safety would result in consequences. The district’s attorney and policy consultant helped shape the wording of section #25 under the policy, which read:

Acting in any manner that creates a health and/or safety hazard for staff members, students, or the public regardless of whether the conduct is intended as a joke, including but not limited to violating school district health and safety protocols, developed in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic, such as, but not limited to, physical distancing and mask-wearing requirements.

As outlined in the introduction, disciplinary action under this provision along with all others would apply to “pupil’s conduct on or off the school grounds, or at any school-sponsored activity” that affects the school community, in this case in regards to safety and health.

Smith said the phrasing of section #25 would allow the district to address circumstances not only in which an individual openly acts counter to safety policies, such as refusing to wear a mask entirely, but also if an individual breaks the rules in a bullying or joking manner, such as someone taking off another student’s mask as a joke or standing within six-feet of someone to make them uncomfortable.

Smith said safety and COVID-19 health requirements have been articulated in a multitude of ways, but BOE member Gretchen Jeanes suggested that perhaps the school could issue one document focusing on these requirements in one place. Jeanes and fellow BOE member Ruth Deluca suggested that having one document to reiterate the seriousness of the requirements and clarify which masks are acceptable would be helpful to the community. This could be done in updating the code of conduct, which Smith said he would complete over the coming weekend.

Deluca also suggested that given recent community events involving high school students not following social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines, perhaps Wilton High School students would need more active supervision and incentive than the concept of an honor code in regard to monitoring their health, such as measuring fever and tracking symptoms.

“I’m not necessarily sure if that is the right approach for the high school anymore,” she said, adding that specific, in-school consequences for breaking community safety standards could create a greater incentive for students to follow guidelines.

“If the public safety and your community is not enough to keep you in line, then now it becomes your own personal college application,” she said.

DeLuca explained her belief that the policy should emphasize that students and families be honest about behaviors that may pose a risk to the school community.

For instance, under the new provision, if a student did break a rule, such as traveling to a high-contact area and returning to school before quarantining, they would be punished under the new requirement #25. However, DeLuca said the district does not want to police behavior, but the “honesty about that behavior to the school community,” such as owning up to when you travel to a quarantine state and quarantining responsibly.

“There should be some type of teeth behind [the rules] and that’s why I think it should be perfectly clear if you have traveled to a state that’s on the quarantine list, you call in remote, no questions asked, it’s fine, we’re not penalizing you. But if you say you didn’t travel to one of those places and there is [evidence of you] in one of those places, there needs to be consequences for that and it can’t be that the whole district goes remote,” she added.

Smith said he thinks the general phrasing of the new requirement will allow the school to take the proper action against any behavior that threatens the school community’s safety.

Looking Ahead–BOE to Discuss Changes

The Board of Education will meet to discuss these proposed changes Thursday night, Aug. 27. Members will also discuss fall sports and reopening.

4 COMMENTS

  1. The new policy goes overboard in trying to regulate actions that may be taken in homes regarding online instructions. Prohibiting recording of sessions and other restrictive regulations are presented in wording designed as protecting teachers’ safety and privacy rights but ignore the obvious alternative aspects, such as parents being aware of the lessons that they will often be asked by the students to further explain. Prohibiting recording video or audio of these sessions would be consistent with the fact that ‘others’ would not be in the classroom where students would normally be attending class. But these are not normal times and not all students are the same age, so this ‘one size fits all’ approach should not apply from pre-k through high school. (And, as we recently saw, high school students do not always show good judgement, and without photographic evidence, there could be group denial that the event ((picture of the group of seniors from the scavenger hunt)) ever happened.) This policy should be reconsidered and modified. Parents have the primary duty and right to protect their children and teachers who come into our homes through online instruction must accept that parents or others might be watching. Trying to restrict or prohibit that duty and right is not the right way to proceed and sends the wrong message from the teachers. Reconsider this.

  2. I agree with all of Michael Waskom’s points above. In addition, my wife and I are both currently performing our jobs from home and will be doing our best to help our Kindergartner and 2nd grader learn remotely. Recording lessons that may conflict with our work commitments would be really helpful for us and perhaps other parents in similar situations. I really hope they reconsider this aspect of the policy to give parents with elementary school age kids more flexibility.

  3. I agree with Robert and Michael. We have a tutor coming in to assist with our 8th and 1st grader during their remote learning days. It was demonstrated last spring that I was sadly insufficient. “no one but the students should be observing live instruction” requires us to break the rules in order to have our tutor listen in to help them with their school work. It even makes it wrong for us, as parents, to listen in. I believe this places too large of a burden upon our kids to not be able to receive help from parents/tutors. Please reconsider this rule.

  4. Parents should always monitor their children’s online activity, especially younger age kids. This is irresponsible of the BOE to direct parents to not listen in or that no one but the student should be listening in to the live instruction.

    In addition to potential safety issues, who exactly does the BOE think is going to help the students complete the assignments while at home? The parents should listen in so they can actually help the kindergarteners who don’t know how to read yet to do the assignments.

    Kids first, not teacher union contracts.

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