by Bob Barr
Parents across America being forced to deal with the technological and administrative burdens of “distance learning” face severe consequences, even potential criminal charges, if they fail to meet these challenges.
One might think that actually getting a student to sit in front of a laptop for hours on end would be a victory in and of itself. Now, however, parents have the added stress of making sure nothing that might be seen on camera behind and around the child shows anything that could be considered politically incorrect, or that might trigger a report to the “authorities.” Failure to do so could result in a visit from the police. This is exactly what happened to the mother of a fifth-grade boy in Baltimore.
The student was a Boy Scout and his mother a Navy veteran. They made what turned out to be a serious mistake during a distance learning session, when they failed to realize that hanging on a wall behind where the boy sat for his video learning session were two BB guns, including a fabled “Red Ryder” model. This oversight was sufficient to trigger fear in the fifth-grade teacher on the other end of the video session, who quickly reported the “disturbing” images to her school principal. Up the chain of command the report went, from the teacher, to the principal, and to the police who were summoned to search the house for “weapons.”
Even more disturbing than the fact that a teacher apparently became traumatized at the sight of a BB gun on a bedroom wall, was the fact that, according to media accounts, the initial call came from “a concerned parent.”
The Baltimore incident typifies the “zero tolerance” policies that schools across the country have for years followed. These policies allow no room for reason or common sense, and which in this era of “distance learning” are being abused in deeply disturbing ways.
According to news reports of the Baltimore incident, the mother of the fifth grader herself posed a number of important questions to the school and to the police, none of which were answered as they should have been were we living in a society protective of individual privacy, rather than one that most highly values the power of government entities (in this case, public schools).
The boy’s mother asked the right questions — who exactly is able to access the videos of her child as he complies with mandates that he sit in front of a computer video camera to “distance learn?” What happens to the video images and screen shots of the children? Why did the school officials call the police rather than simply phone the parent to obtain the facts and voice their concern?
The only reply from the school officials was that they followed their precious “policies,” including their view that the rule prohibiting students from bringing weapons to school applies equally to “distance learning.” In other words, if a rule prohibits bringing a gun to school, it also prohibits “bringing” it to a “virtual classroom” (also known as a “bedroom” if that is where the student’s laptop is set up). Despite the profoundly idiotic nature of such a policy interpretation, the teacher and principal at this Baltimore public school apparently believe the nonsense they were uttering.
As disturbing as is the privacy-invasive nature of this incident, and the implications for students and families wherever “distance learning” mandates are in place, it gets worse.
In Boston, for example (and almost certainly other cities), parents are being reported to the Department of Children and Families for alleged “child neglect” if students are not logging in to their “virtual” lessons for the requisite time. Despite there being any number of legitimate reasons why a student might not be properly logged in — such as the parents not being fully cognizant of online learning protocols, or their having to rely on an older sibling to ensure the youngster remains on-line — failure can result in visits from the authorities, and even criminal charges.
As with the Baltimore mother, parents in cities like Boston face the worsening nightmare of navigating the techno world of “distance learning” being administered by callous and unthinking bureaucrats with the power to have you thrown in jail at their whim.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s 7 District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003 and was the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986 to 1990. He now serves as President of the Law Enforcement Education Foundation based in Atlanta, Georgia.