I've been working on rebuilding our computer, email, and Internet use policies for the district. Right now, they either don't exist, are too vague, too Draconian, to specific, or just not well-understood. We need the Goldilocks of policies: One that is "just right." Our email policy, for now, is really only for the staff and I'm happy with that; it also seems completely reasonable to have a computer use policy specific to staff. However, for student computing policies, I'm wondering if a single set of rules/guidelines for the district might not be more appropriate.
At first blush, it would make sense to have at least a primary and secondary policy. Clearly, these students will be using computers in different ways and will find different ways to get themselves in trouble. Yet really, we can enforce different Internet content standards via our firewalls/content filters in each building. The policy, or guiding principles, if you will, for using district computing facilities should be the same, shouldn't it?
The policy, in fact, should be guiding students for their whole academic careers towards being responsible and sensible in their computer use. It should guide students toward proper use of hardware and thoughtful use of the Web and its vast resources. Those concepts shouldn't change whether the students are in 1st grade or 11th grade.
Do we want students to be adept at using a wide variety of communications media? Of course! Do we want them threatening each other or spewing hate messages via these media? No, obviously not. Do we want students vandalizing computers? No. Should they follow appropriate boot up and shut down procedures? Yes.
This isn't rocket science, but administrators need guidelines to deal with student infractions and teachers need to enforce appropriate use in the classroom.
Here's the take-home message: The policy can be kept general, yet useful to teachers and administrators. The nitty-gritty can be handled via hardware. Block porn and MySpace everywhere, block proxies all around, and then relax on content filtering as the kids get older. It's simple, straightforward, and lets your policy match your goals for your students as independent technology users. One policy on computer/Internet use for students can certainly rule them all.