North Carolina Law Review

University of North Carolina School of Law

160 Ridge Road

Chapel Hill, NC 27514

THE CONSTANT AND EXPANDING CLASSROOM: SURVEILLANCE IN K-12 PUBLIC SCHOOLS

September 8, 2019

 

 97 N.C. L. REV. 1673 (2019) 

 

 

 New technologies are expanding schools’ ability to keep students under surveillance—inside and outside the classroom—during the school year and after it ends. Schools have moved quickly to adopt a dizzying array of new tools. These include digital learning products that capture and store student data; anonymous tip lines encouraging students to report on each other; and software that monitors students’ emails and social media posts, even when they are written from home. Steadily growing numbers of police officers stationed in schools can access this information, compounding the technologies’ power. 

 

Advocates of these tools argue that they improve student safety and learning outcomes, but this Article reveals that the evidence for this argument is in fact quite thin. Moreover, policymakers have failed to consider important countervailing considerations—most notably, student privacy and its significance for child development; unequal impact, particularly for poor, Black, and LGBTQ youth; and potential liability for school administrators. 

 

Using North Carolina’s public schools as a case study, this Article makes three contributions to the burgeoning literature on the surveillance state. First, it provides a comprehensive typology that shows the full range of student surveillance. Second, it identifies key procedural and substantive objections to student surveillance that should be—but are not—taken into account by policymakers. Third, it proposes principles to guide the selection, implementation, and oversight of student surveillance. 

 

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