A school district in Tennessee is asking parents to sign a form agreeing not to monitor their children’s virtual classrooms over concerns that “non-student observers” could overhear confidential information.
The form, a copy of which was sent to the Tennessee Star, reads: “RCS strives to present these opportunities in a secure format that protects student privacy to the greatest extent possible, however, because these meetings will occur virtually RCS is limited in its ability to fully control certain factors such as non-student observers that may be present in the home of a student participating in the virtual meeting.”
The agreement goes on to “strongly discourage” “non-student observation of online meetings due to the potential of confidential information about a student being revealed,” and while it does not specifically say that parents may not be present while their child is participating in virtual instruction, it does say that a “violation of this agreement may result in RCS removing my child from the virtual meeting.”
The agreement, of course, raised parents’ interest, according to the Tennessee Star, particularly given that the agreement implied items of interest might be being discussed in classrooms without parents’ knowledge.
In an email to parents sent earlier this week, the Rutherford School District said that they’re taking parents’ concerns under advisement.
“We are aware of the concern that has been raised about this distance-learning letter that was sent to parents,” a spokesperson told the Star. “The intent was not to prevent parents from being involved with their children during distance learning, but it was intended to protect the academic privacy of other students in the classroom who are visible during certain virtual class sessions.”
Instead, the school district is now instructing parents not to record virtual instruction to view later.
“We have issued new guidance to principals that parents can assist their children during virtual group lessons with permission of the instructor but should refrain from sharing or recording any information about other students in the classroom,” the spokesperson added.
Virtual education — now normal in most public school districts across the country in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic — does offer parents a more hands-on experience in their children’s education, an experience that, prior to school year kickoff, seemed to be of concern to some teachers who see promoting “social justice” as part of their role as an educator.
Fox News reported last month that at least one Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, schoolteacher was so concerned about “conservative” parents objecting to his instruction that he warned teachers to be careful about who is witnessing their virtual sessions.
“So, this fall, virtual class discussion will have many potential spectators — parents, siblings, etc. — in the same room. We’ll never be quite sure who is overhearing the discourse. What does this do for our equity/inclusion work?” the teacher tweeted. “How much have students depended on the (somewhat) secure barriers of our physical classrooms to encourage vulnerability? How many of us have installed some version of ‘what happens here stays here’ to help this?”
While conversations about race are in my wheelhouse and remain a concern in this no-walls environment — I am most intrigued by the damage that ‘helicopter/snowplow’ parents can do in the host conversations about gender/sexuality,” he continued. “And while ‘conservative’ parents are my chief concern — I know that the damage can come from the left too. If we are engaged in the messy work of destabilizing a kid’s racism or homophobia or transphobia — how much do we want their classmates’ parents piling on?”