An Illinois bill allowing schools to ask for social media passwords from students has led to at least one district notifying parents of the policy.
The bill requires that elementary and secondary schools students provide social media passwords if the school has reasonable cause to believe the student’s social media account has evidence he or she violated a disciplinary rule or policy. It was signed by former governor Pat Quinn (D) in 2013, but didn’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2015.
At least one Illinois school district has already sent letters to parents. This week, the Triad Community Unit School District #2 sent a letter obtained by KTVI that said state law required them to notify parents their child may be asked to provide passwords. Superintendent Leigh Lewis said the district has not requested any passwords and hopes “such a situation will never arise.”
“The district understands student privacy interests … and will not haphazardly request social media passwords unless there is a need, and will certainly involve parents throughout the process,” Lewis said in a statement provided to The Washington Post.
Lewis said instances where the school would request passwords would be if a threat was made to harm a school or other students, or if there was a “pervasive bullying issue.” She said there would not be criminal prosecution of a student if he or she refused to give a password.
“[T]he notification letter sent to parents is specifically authorized by law and is consistent with language provided to us by the Illinois Association of School Boards,” she said.
The Illinois Principals Association included a sample letter administrators could use in its Model Student handbook, published in March, but Brian Schwartz, associate director and general counsel of the organization, said they caution school districts “that we don’t think it’s a good procedure.”
“We were not in favor of that legislation,” Schwartz said.
Legislation prohibiting schools from accessing information about students’ social media was introduced in Hawaii, Indiana, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Rhode Island last year, and at least 28 states have introduced or have pending legislation regarding employer access to social media usernames and passwords as of November, the National Conference of State Legislatures found.