Student Privacy Goes Zoom

Schools and educators work very hard to protect our students. We control who does and doesn’t get to enter the school and access the children. We vet the volunteers. Belligerent or violent parents get stopped at the office or banned from the building entirely. Anyone with a criminal record can be denied access. Our role as first defence all but disappears if the Ministry of Education insists on mandatory “Zoom style” teaching. As such, the government call for synchronous online learning is opening up the province’s children to severe violations of their privacy and personal safety.

Let’s start with the privacy rights of students who struggle with school. In class, we try to establish a positive, supportive learning environment. Mistakes are a good thing to make, and we acknowledge that we all make them. We encourage each other and help each other. If this means that we’re going to give one child some extra think-time, if this means we’ll listen to their full answer even if it’s wrong, if this means we’ll take the time to explain something even though everyone else has to sit patiently as it happens, then that’s what we’ll do. But if there is someone the student doesn’t know lingering in the background, someone rolling her eyes or tapping a finger impatiently off to the side, or mumbling into the microphone about how easy this is, then those kids will shut down. They won’t answer, they won’t try, and eventually they won’t participate at all. Zoom style teaching invites the parents and guardians of every single student into the classroom. Now, a student’s struggles and their reactions to those struggles (which could range anywhere from going quiet to having a screaming meltdown if not managed properly), is open to the scrutiny of total strangers. Strangers who might not respect these children’s right to privacy, who might think nothing about gossiping about the “stupid” or “creepy” or “weird” kid they just watch in their child’s class.

Many of our students live in Hell. School is their escape. With their friends in class and on the playground, they can forget the conditions of their houses and the mental states of their parents. These children don’t talk about their home lives. They don’t invite friends over to play. They keep their living conditions a secret. Stephen Lecce’s plan would see the squalor, daytime intoxication, and other horrible issues these children experience put on camera for all their classmates and their parents to witness. A student can turn his laptop so it only shows a blank wall behind him, but can he close the lid fast enough to prevent his friends from watching his mother stumble into the shot, or before they hear his father smashing something because he can’t find his stash? Lecce has not thought about how mortifying synchronous learning could be for some children.

The school board has firewalls and password protection. These are superseded simply by using a child’s login to access virtual classrooms. We struggle to keep our children, especially girls, safe on social media. With synchronous learning, there is nothing to stop some man from using his son’s login to join the boy’s grade 9 history class meeting to stare at the 14-year-old girls, camera off, microphone muted, bathroom door locked.

These might be considered extreme cases, but they aren’t even the worst that could happen. And these examples don’t come close to covering all the things that could occur to embarrass, humiliate or even harm the children in Ontario schools. A mom choosing Zoom time to rip a strip off of her daughter’s teacher. A non-custodial parent using his friend’s child’s account to spy on the son he’s not allowed to see. A class hearing someone’s mother murdered off camera, as was the case in Florida, just this month. 

A policy of enforced “Zoom style” meetings circumvents all laws and policies that safeguard our students’ rights to a safe and private learning space, because we don’t control their home environments or the people who live there. 

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