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ACLU Demands Student Privacy Protections, Equal Remote Learning Access

WASHINGTON - Even during a pandemic, governments have a legal obligation to provide all students equal access to an adequate education, the American Civil Liberties Union and over 25 ACLU state chapters warned in letters to state and local leaders nationwide.

To help meet this obligation during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ACLU is demanding Congress and state and local governments ensure all students have equal access to the technologies that make effective remote learning possible, and that strong and uniform privacy safeguards are in place to protect students in the virtual classroom. The ACLU is also calling on Congress to provide billions of dollars in funding as part of the next COVID-19 relief package to meet the broadband access and technology needs of students and other impacted individuals.

“The current public health crisis doesn’t excuse government from its responsibility to ensure all students have equal access to a quality education — it makes that responsibility even more critical,” said ACLU Senior Advocacy and Policy Counsel Chad Marlow. “Our children shouldn’t have to stress about falling behind their peers simply because their families can’t afford internet access or a computer. Nor should they have to fear being outed as LGBTQ or putting family members at risk of deportation because current remote learning technologies lack basic privacy protections.”

Many students, especially low-income students and students of color, lack access to technology and communications services that are essential to remote learning. Students with disabilities face even greater challenges.

“No kid on Earth was responsible for these circumstances and so we shouldn’t be suffering because of it. It is important that we start considering the problem of technological access now because we’ve seen what can happen when we don’t address the problem soon enough,” said Ella Rosenberg, a high school junior from North Carolina.

“While my school is doing its best, it is not working. I live in a very rural area, which means a lot of my peers don’t have any access to internet in their homes. The school is telling them that they need to go do their work in the school parking lot in their cars. That is not a good learning environment,” said Mia Genovese, a high school junior from Maryland.

Compounding these concerns, the tech industry’s educational products are often used to gather large troves of highly personal student information. Some of these products also enable companies and schools to spy on students — a practice that further exacerbates the over-disciplining of students of color.

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“This is already hard enough as it is. We don’t need technology to fail us and make it even harder,” said Adrianna Parrino, a high school sophomore from Arizona.

ACLU state chapters have sent letters to government officials in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

In its letter to Congress, the ACLU is urging members to provide $2-3 billion per month for the duration of the crisis and for at least 30 days after the crisis ends for an emergency benefit to make broadband services available to all eligible low-income households and all households experiencing hardship as a result of the pandemic. To help students further, the organization is also calling on Congress to provide $4 billion for an Emergency Connectivity Fund, proposed by Rep. Grace Meng and Sen. Ed Markey, that would cover immediate assistance for students and library patrons that need access to technology to engage in remote and distance learning in their homes.

The letter to Congress is here: https://www.aclu.org/letter/aclu-letter-congress-urging-broadband-access-funding-phase-4-covid-19-package.

An example letter to states is here: https://www.aclu.org/letter/aclu-ma-letter-state-officials-urging-student-privacy-protections-equal-remote-learning.

A blog post on today’s news is here: https://www.aclu.org/news/disability-rights/in-fear-of-falling-behind-and-privacy-invasions-students-demand-action-on-remote-learning.

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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