Contracts and the Reality of Using AUPs in an International School


Recently a friend of mine had a battle with a staff member over an Acceptable Use Policy(AUP). It is common to fight with students over these, but rarely with staff.

My friend was not asking for anything unrealistic in his well drafted AUP. He actually took the time to produce one AUP for the community, and it was not negative or aggressive.

The battle went on for weeks. The teacher refused to even take a school laptop. The teacher even launched an internal email campaign that involved telling the parents the AUP was disruptive to learning.

Here is the worst part of the AUP story, the AUP does not matter. It is a completely unenforceable document in an international school. Often, it is unenforceable for students as well. Here is why.

The Local Law Surrounds the School

International schools are bound by the laws around them. This includes human resource law, liability regulations, insurance practices, etc. Having an AUP say something is not permitted, when it is either permitted or not enforceable in the host country, is a waste of policy. Explaining to the community the local law surrounding the school is always a good idea, and using the law when needed is a good idea. Trying to create your own rules that are not aligned with the law is a bad idea.

Assuming the School is in a Sellers Market

A sellers market implies that demand is high, and supply is scarce, therefore businesses can charge whatever they want to consumers. AUP language often assumes that a school is in a sellers market, and therefore, can remove teachers and students from the community. Thus also assuming that these people can easily be replaced. The fact is, this is hardy ever the case. Once the staffing is done, and the year begins, schools do not want to try and deal with an HR problem unless it puts the children or community at risk.

Many schools have contracts that protect the employee (due to local regulations) and the only way to remove them (assuming they have not broken local laws) is to pay out their contract and/or wait and not renew their contract.

Students pay tuition. In most situations, a student gets a pro-rated reimbursement if they leave the school early. In many countries the law forbids the expulsion of students, and forces the school to cope with the problems. Removing students in places like the Middle East can even require numerous lobbying efforts to the ministry of education. Sometimes, legal services have to be paid just to get the paperwork done. Again, many schools will cope with the problem until a point where they are legally allowed to transfer the student out.

Schools need tuition to function, and if they are not-for-profit, they certainly do not want to reimburse fees (or pay fees) to have a student removed unless that student is breaking local laws and/or is a danger to themselves or the community.

Contracts and Equipment

When employees or students contract to join a school, they are usually told, “We will give you xyz.” Maybe that is a laptop. Maybe the school is BYOD and people get software. Regardless, most schools give teachers and students something, and that something is part of their contract. I have yet to see the initial agreement for new teachers to say, “Before you take this job you must agree that if you break the school’s AUP you will be financially responsible for xyz.”

Schools looking for staff are already vetting people as much as they can. They would never consider not hiring someone because that person had a philosophical disagreement with a liability clause on an item worth less than $2000.00. Not having a teacher, means not meeting the contractual obligation the school has with families, and the families are paying tuition.

Simply put, as with many things relating to IT, people just do not care. They only care that the majority of teachers work with IT well, and that 100% of the teachers work with children well. They will maintain their agreement to equip the teachers and students unless something very drastic occurred.

A Great Teacher Can Skip the AUP

Right or wrong, a school with a strong subject teacher or department head, is not going to strictly enforce policies that they see as trivial.

An adult, with an excellent track record and IT, proficiency should be allowed to manage their own computer. They most like manage far more complex things, and they should not need IT to install software. These are the expectations of most modern professional. Most AUPs cause conflict when they limit access or workflow. What have just written is the opinion of most administrators who are focused on finding good people, who are professional. Reflecting, many AUPs would now seem trivial.

Therefore, fighting over the AUP is not the answer to achieving what most Technology Directors want, which are standards that protect the network and equipment. Another approach is required.

Is this just Anarchy without Hope?

If I loan you (the reader who is not captivated by the heading) my car, and you damage it, you know there is an expectation that you will compensate me for the damage. We do not need a written agreement. Socially, the expectation is applied.

Teachers and students know what they own and what they do not own. Therefore, they are aware if they damage something, some compensation is required. The school may wave this compensation, but the expectation is there.

As far as network usage goes, if the school cannot afford a filter, then all users will have open internet access. Teachers, as a profession, have an expectation to not expose students to inappropriate content. Teachers breaking that expectation would fall into a different category than those violating IT procedures. An AUP is not where this type of policy should fit, as it connects to the concept of harming children.

So what should the AUP be? In a recent post by Roberto Baldizón , he argues that it should be visible, interactive, and memorable. This is what that means to me:

  • The AUP should be something people can easily refer to make decisions in gray areas. Such as:  How should I properly email parents?
  • The AUP should contain indicators or examples of behaviour that is consider inappropriate for the community. For example, the community might always insist that in group meetings all laptops are put away.
  • The AUP might list areas that will be evaluated in a end-of-year teacher evaluations.
  • The AUP needs to connect to the mission of the school and the vision of the Technology Department. The language should be consistent. This joins the policy to other policies.

What about MY AUP?

My Staff AUP is filled with liability jargon. It is not fun, and mainly it is used to notify people that they are responsible for breaking things. I do this out of habit and have a very hard time squeezing money out of staff for damage under $1000.00 USD.

The best tool I have for managing behaviour is my IT Ticket system. It has, in great detail, data that allows me to go to a senior administrative meeting and identify individuals who are abusing resources, not responsible for their classrooms, and who repeat the same cycle of break-it/fix-it. This is the data principals need to have conversations with staff, and use for end-of-year evaluations.

My Student AUP is not as bad. It is connected to the student disciplinary policy and was written by committee. At no point does my AUP indicate it has the power to remove a student from the academic program, it only allows for network management and/or banning of services, to be decided by the academic office. The AUP is actually to help the academic office make decisions.

Writing policy is important. Writing unenforceable policy is a waste of time. Find the balance, research your local laws and guidelines, align with other people, and use the community to manage the individual.

Tony DePrato

Your hard drive crashed – I don’t care

Your hard drive crashed – I don’t care

Yeah, I’m trying to get your attention and yes I do care – just not personal data. This post is about how schools should (and hopefully do) handle data. As a school and being in IT, I do care about data. I care a lot about it. I find it essential, but I don’t care about all data equally – that is just stupid. So read on if and let me know if you agree or disagree with what I have to say.

What is important

Here is what is happening at our school. We have issued 13″ MacBook Pros to our staff. We use a student information system, we use Atlas Rubicon for curriculum needs and we are a Google Apps for Education school.

That data is important to me. That is what we need for transitioning old staff to new staff. To keeping accurate attendance, grades, running transcripts and reports. Making sure that our curriculum is aligned vertically and horizontally. Yep – that stuff is important that is what we need. That info is backed up locally and in the cloud and with the exception of Google, we pay good money for this to happen and to protect this data. This is what is important to me and the school I work for.

What isn’t important

Now to the other side. As a school, I don’t care what’s on your hard drive. I just don’t because if that data is lost, then it isn’t going to hurt the school one bit. It will inconvenience the teacher – for sure – but classes will not be canceled, the curriculum will still be taught, students will still be assessed in a timely and professional manner and reports will be sent out on time. Here is quick excerpt from our user agreement that makes our stance quite clear.

I am empathetic to the teacher who loses data because I’ve been there and it isn’t fun. Honestly though – as a professional – I don’t care. Your music, photos, personal files and movies don’t interest me or the school for that matter, nor should they because they have nothing to do with the day-to-day operations. It really doesn’t. You should be backing up your data anyway – which is something Tony and I have written about. You can read about it here and here.

It’s not your computer

We issue laptops to people at our school but the staff treat it as their own personal laptop. I’ve seen teachers torrent media, fill up the hard drive with music and photos and install their own personal programs that have nothing to do with school. I’m not saying all people do it, but many have and when the computer dies, their data dies with it and they are frustrated, upset and generally unhappy but you see the school doesn’t care about that data. The school’s important data is already protected and backed up. The school cares about the computer being repaired and getting it back into the hands of a staff member so they can do their work and that teachers can do their job at a high level and that’s it. So if you’ve lost 75 GB of music – sorry for that, but you have classes and students who need your attention.

Issuing external hard drives?

Man this is such a bad idea. I know some schools do this, but they would be better off giving their money to charity. At least it will be going to a good cause. These hard drives are a money pit. Teachers will lose them, have them stolen or the hard drives will simply just fail. Let me tell you good reader, hard drives fail – it is not a matter of if but a matter of when.

If schools issue external hard drives to teachers, then when they fail, they need to go out and purchase new hard drives for those people. While they are not terribly expensive, when you expand that cost to include a staff of 100 or more, it gets pretty pricey.

Then when they leave what do you do? Does the school reclaim an old hard drive that will fail – only to give it to a new staff member? No, they usually just give it to the staff member leaving. Terrible – it’s just money down the drain.

The only reason a school would do this is to appease the staff and make them happy. That is it. It doesn’t truly benefit any aspect of the teaching and learning process. It also has a bad side effect of reinforcing that the school computer they are using is, in fact, for their personal use. I can see the though bubbles now Well, they gave me this computer and a hard drive, I might as well add all my media to it. I mean they’re letting me do it right? It is just a bad practice and needs to go away.

The cloud

Ahh the cloud. If your school has Google Apps, Office 365 or Zoho, then your staff most likely has some sort of cloud storage ability. As I mentioned earlier – we have Google Apps and they give us 30GB of storage which is a lot!

For teachers, this is where they should be storing important documents such as quizzes, units, etc. It should also be on Atlas, but certainly here too. That way if there computer fizzles out all they need is another computer with Internet and they can go right on working. I’ve seen this in practice and man it makes me happy. Another bonus feature is that you can transfer data from one account to another as well! That is much easier than doing it from one computer to another.

If your school doesn’t have this, then get your own. Google Drive – free – 25GB. Microsoft One Drive – Free – 30GB and there are plenty more out there. This is where those important personal files need to go – online not just your hard drive.

If you keep everything on your computer’s hard drive and you don’t back up, then make sure you have a mirror handy. When it fails, then you know who to look in the eye and blame – not the school you work for or the company that made the hard drive.

Managing E-Waste

Working as head of IT for the Dubai American Academy, I have had to create a e-waste management system and all the policies involved in managing e-waste.

Before any sifting and sorting takes place it helps to create a series of policies that include all the divisions involved in accounting for and deprecating electronics. Most organizations have accounting policies that require equipment to be listed in inventory for a set amount of time.

My school requires laptops to be kept in inventory for five years. This means that we cannot initiate recycling until this standard is met. However, I have found that many items which contribute to e-waste are not part of the accounting inventory, and with good planning you can remove these items sooner than later.

Normally the items not listed are accessories that came with the individual equipment kits. For example, when you buy a desktop CPU it usually comes with multiple power cords and adaptors – most of which you do not need- a keyboard, and a mouse. Once a machine is past a certain point in its life-cycle, repairing it is not an option. If accounting policies demand you store the machine until a certain period of time is reached, then of course you must adhere to this.

However, what you can do is set a policy with accounting that un-itemized accessories be excluded from the time restriction. Many accessories can be donated or immediately recycled. Cables, keyboards, mice, etc occupy space and are difficult to stack and store.

There are many other items you can have listed as exceptions that will make managing e-waste a more fluid experience. Some things I recommend getting listed are:
Laptop Cases
Ethernet Cables
Power Extensions and Adaptors
Redundant Copies of Utility CDs and DVDs (these often come with networking equipment)
Fire or Water damaged items
Physically Damaged LCD or CRT Monitors
Printers that are no longer being manufactured or that require Ink that is no longer manufactured.

Working with your accounting department and creating an exception list for e-waste management will help streamline your efforts to reduce-reuse-recycle. When the time comes for the items that must be carefully inventoried and properly deprecated from the records, you will have more time to focus on the paperwork, and you will save time sorting and organizing what could be tons of hardware.

E-Waste can pile up fast. Closets can become hazardous “fallen-rock zones” if you are not careful. A good E-Waste policy needs a sorting and storage plan. There are two kinds of sorting in my world: sorting and micro-sorting.

Sorting is just what it sounds like. You take things that are similar and put them together. You should figure out what items are potentially toxic, non-recylable, and reusable. Other items can be sorted according to size, likeness, or whatever makes sense to you and your e-waste company.

Micro-sorting is a process of dealing with things like batteries, wiring, broken accessories, plastics, and metals. Around your office or organization there needs to be bins for collecting batteries, cell phones, plastics but not bottles, broken small pieces of metal, wiring/cables, and printer ink cartridges.

All of these things build up and are difficult to store. They do not require paperwork for disposal.

If left as part of the main body of items to be recycled, these things will creat chaos. Wires and cables will spool around into unmanagible knots. Batteries can leak acid. Ink cartridges can leak ink residue. Small metal shards can easily cause injury while reaching in to sort larger items.These items make-up more weight and take-up more space than you might believe.

Micro-sorting is a good habit to get into and it is something you can start TODAY with some startegically placed bins and a schedule for collecting and delivering the items.

Tony DePrato