Schools’ intrusion into students’ privacy is now sanctioned

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Last week, a federal judge ruled that it was unconstitutional for an Ohio university to virtually scan a student’s room before he or she takes a remote test, a decision that could affect how schools use the remote monitoring software popularized during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Indeed, an Educause investigation found that with the 2020 global pandemic, students experienced a large number of privacy breaches by schools. 

As a result, it has now become common practice for some schools to record students throughout remote testing to prevent cheating, while others conduct room scans at the beginning of the test.

A student at Cleveland State University, Ogletree, was asked to scan his room with a webcam before taking an online chemistry test in the spring 2021 semester. He tried to object to the request, arguing that he had smeared sensitive tax documents on a surface, but eventually complied. 

After the test, Ogletree sued Cleveland State for violating his Fourth Amendment rights, and Ohio Judge J. Philip Calabrese ruled on Aug. 22 that Ogletree was right: the practice of room scanning is not only an invasion of privacy, but also a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unlawful searches in American homes.

« Although schools may routinely use remote technology to look into homes without objection from some, most, or nearly all students, it does not follow that others could not object to the virtual intrusion into their homes or that the routine use of a practice such as room scans does not violate a privacy interest that society recognizes as reasonable, both in fact and in law, » the judge said.

Civil rights attorney Matthew Besser, who represented Ogletree, described the decision as a landmark case on his firm’s blog, « This case appears to be the first in the country to hold that the Fourth Amendment protects students from unreasonable video searches of their homes prior to taking a remote test. »

That means, according to Besser, protecting test integrity is a legitimate interest but does not justify infringing on privacy. 

Nevertheless, can we hope that this case will push schools to deploy practices that are not intrusive to student safety? 

 

By Mélissa Walehiane

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