The focus of an AUP should be on the responsible use of computer networks. Such networks include both the Internet (the World Wide Web, external e-mail, and so on) and any Intranets (classroom networks, communications between classes within a school or district, library catalogue and database access, etc.). According to the US Department of Education's online Alphabet Superhighway, AUPs should include:
- A description of the instructional philosophies, strategies and goals to be supported by Internet access in schools
- An explanation of the availability of computer networks to students and staff members in your school or district
- A statement about the educational uses and advantages of the Internet
- An explanation of the responsibilities of educators and parents for students' use of the Internet
- A code of conduct governing behaviour on the Internet
- An outline of the consequences of violating the AUP
- A description of what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable use of the Internet
- A description of the rights of individuals using the networks in your school/district (such as the right to free speech, right to privacy, and so on)
- A disclaimer absolving the school district from responsibility, under certain circumstances
- An acknowledgement that the AUP complies with provincial and national telecommunication rules and regulations
- A form for teachers, parents and students to sign, indicating that they agree to abide by the AUP
In addition, an AUP should:
- Serve as a legal document.
The school board's legal counsel should approve the AUP before it is distributed.
- Be complete.
An AUP should include not just rules of behaviour, but also a statement about the school's position on Internet use.
- Be adaptable.
Since the Internet is constantly evolving, an AUP cannot anticipate every possible situation. It should address this fact, and be capable of modifications to cover circumstances not outlined. You may need to update the AUP as new issues arise.
- Be unique to your school.
Every school or district is different - both in terms of the technology available, and in terms of who has access to the network; who maintains the network; and who teaches school personnel and/or students how to use the network.
- Protect students.
If students follow the AUP's rules, their exposure to questionable material should be minimized. The AUP can also protect them from dangerous online behaviour, such as giving out their names and addresses to strangers.
- Inform parents.
An AUP outlines to parents how their children will learn on the Internet, and how they will be supervised while on it.
Some ministries of education and school boards have developed acceptable use guidelines for all stakeholders. An excellent model can be found on EdNet, the Web site for Nova Scotia's Department of Education and Culture (see right sidebar). It clearly defines the responsibilities of the ministry, school boards, schools, parents, teachers and students. However, responsibility for AUPs usually rests with school boards and individual schools.
Can AUPs limit young people's access to information at school?
A downside of AUPs is that because they emphasize surveillance and control rather than supervision and guidance, they imply an absence of trust in students. But when AUPs are properly designed and implemented, they respect the rights of both child and school - and are certainly less restrictive than filtering software.
However, AUPs are not a foolproof solution to issues of students' use of technology. Although some AUPs attempt to protect school boards from legal liability, the mere fact that schools or boards assume the role of "gatekeepers" may actually set them up for litigation if students are exposed to questionable material. In such an environment, administrators can understandably become edgy about topics that seem controversial - and this can lead them to restrict or deny students access to some information.
A parent asks: "If my child's school has Internet access but no AUP, who should I talk to?"
Contact your local school board to determine whether any guidelines have been established for Internet use. If neither school nor board has any such guidelines, you might consider contacting:
- Your area superintendent or school board trustee
- Your local parents' advisory council