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Acceptable Use Policy for Schools: Getting Started

An Acceptable Use Policy, or AUP, is a policy used by schools to clearly spell out what is acceptable and what is unacceptable when using a school’s network and the internet. It can also include rules for the care and use of devices in situations where a school provides laptops, tablets, or other internet-ready devices that students take home. The general intent of an AUP is to provide guidelines for internet safety and content appropriateness for anyone who uses the school’s network and equipment. The AUP may also extend to personal devices and can be included as part of a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy.  An AUP can be written to address student, faculty, and staff use, or multiple AUPs may be created for different student age groups or different groups of users since the nature of network and internet use varies.

While there are many resources and examples of AUPs available online, it’s important to understand that an AUP should not be copied from another district without careful review of its content. Different districts have different rules and standards for what is acceptable and appropriate, and what may work for one district may not work for all. That aside, every AUP has a few key elements that are required to make it effective. In addition to explaining what an Acceptable Use Policy is and the function it serves, other parts of an AUP include:

Acceptable use

Determining acceptable use requires your district or school to define why you want to use devices in your classrooms and what purpose their use serves. The most obvious reason is that you want to use them to enhance education, and some schools only allow devices to be used to access educational content or teacher-approved websites and resources. Other schools extend acceptable use to include limited personal use, especially in situations where students and faculty can use their own devices to access the network. However you choose to define acceptable use, it should include a variety of examples so everyone has a clear idea of what’s allowed.

Unacceptable use

It’s usually easy for districts to define how they want students and faculty to use the network and internet. What’s difficult is capturing the ways they don’t want people to use it because that requires predicting all the situations in which technology could be used inappropriately. That’s why it’s a good idea to create a small committee that includes students, faculty, and staff who work together and brainstorm what each group feels is acceptable and unacceptable use. An AUP that is informed by its users will more likely address specific situations before they occur. Some specific situations you’ll want to include in your discussions are accessing inappropriate material online, plagiarism, privacy, and cyberbullying. Some districts also name specific websites that students are prohibited from accessing.

Consequences for policy violation

In order to create a policy that is administered fairly and consistently, you’ll need to clearly explain the consequences for not following it. This section of your AUP is typically informed by administrators and includes an initial warning (depending on the nature of the offense) followed by temporary loss of the privilege, permanent loss of the privilege, or legal action as indicated by the number and severity of offenses.

For additional resources to help you get started on your own AUP, you can Google AUP examples and choose from a number of school districts that have made their policies available online. Another good resource is offered by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN). CoSN offers an acceptable use guide for school districts that includes information about federal and state laws, how schools develop and revise AUPs, and links to samples of AUPs.

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