A new survey from the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) found that teachers and students remain concerned that technology used in schools is threatening their privacy and civil rights.

CDT said the survey – which is coupled with new legal research – should “push education and privacy advocates to urge the White House and Department of Education to prioritize students’ civil rights in the age of AI.” CDT added schools have the power to use existing civil rights laws to identify and prevent discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and disability.

Specifically, CDT identified how technologies such as online monitoring and content filtering and blocking software are increasing students’ encounters with law enforcement and leading to other disciplinary actions. CDT said this often results in disparate impacts on the basis of race, sex, and disability. The results also show a lack of school guidance on responsible use of generative AI technology, despite its quick emergence in education.

“For the second year in a row, we found that schools are failing to use technologies in responsible ways that respect students’ rights. Students, parents, and teachers must have a voice – and receive support – in ensuring the responsible use of technology in schools,” said CDT President and CEO Alexandra Reeve Givens. “The Department of Education has the authority to clarify, provide guidance, and enforce decades-old civil rights protections to the use of technology in schools. As we approach the one-year anniversary of the White House’s Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights, now is the time to act.”

The survey found that 50 percent of teachers think content filtering and blocking software is stifling students’ growth. On top of that, two-thirds of teachers say that students got in trouble as a result of AI-driven student activity monitoring, or in reaction to being confronted about a monitoring alert. Half of teachers surveyed said they know of students who have gotten in trouble for using generative AI.

“What’s disheartening is that another year has gone by, and students at Title I schools, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ students continue to bear the brunt of irresponsible data and technology use and policies in the classroom and at home,” said Elizabeth Laird, director of the Equity in Civic Technology Project at CDT. “This is alarming given that schools say they use technologies to keep all students safe and enhance their learning experience. As students enter the age of AI, they need better from their schools.”

Concerningly, CDT also found that Title I and licensed special education teachers are more likely to report that their schools filter and block online LGBTQ+ and race-related content, which CDT said amounts to a digital book ban. Additionally, LGBTQ+ students report being disciplined more than their peers as a result of student activity monitoring, and licensed special education teachers report that their students face higher incidents of law enforcement contact.

In terms of legal research, CDT argued that common discrimination claims that have historically been made against schools are very much relevant and applicable to uses of technology, both old and new.

In response to the new survey and legal analysis of the Department of Education’s ability to address civil rights harms resulting from technologies, a coalition of high-profile civil society organizations have sent a letter calling for the U.S. Department of Education to issue guidance on how schools can identify and prevent discrimination against protected classes of students. The letter was sent to the U.S. Secretary of Education, the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and copied to multiple White House officials leading the Biden Administration’s work on AI and civil rights.

Thus far, the letter has been signed by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), American Library Association (ALA), Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Center for Learner Equity, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), Disability Rights in Education Defense Fund (DREDF), Educating All Learners Alliance, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Fight for the Future, GLSEN, I Vote for Me, InnovateEDU, LGBT Tech, National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), and Next Century Cities.

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