I’ve recently received a flurry of emails from librarians asking about how we are staying CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act) compliant with our circulation of Kindles to students.  According to the FCC Consumer Facts about CIPA page, here is what is required by CIPA:

  • Schools and libraries subject to CIPA may not receive the discounts offered by the E-rate program unless they certify that they have an Internet safety policy that includes technology protection measures. The protection measures must block or filter Internet access to pictures that are: (a) obscene, (b) child pornography, or (c) harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors). Before adopting this Internet safety policy, schools and libraries must provide reasonable notice and hold at least one public hearing or meeting to address the proposal.
  • Schools subject to CIPA are required to adopt and enforce a policy to monitor online activities of minors.
  • Schools and libraries subject to CIPA are required to adopt and implement an Internet safety policy addressing: (a) access by minors to inappropriate matter on the Internet; (b) the safety and security of minors when using electronic mail, chat rooms, and other forms of direct electronic communications; (c) unauthorized access, including so-called “hacking,” and other unlawful activities by minors online; (d) unauthorized disclosure, use, and dissemination of personal information regarding minors; and (e) measures restricting minors’ access to materials harmful to them.

Schools and libraries are required to certify that they have their safety policies and technology in place before receiving E-rate funding.

  • CIPA does not affect E-rate funding for schools and libraries receiving discounts only for telecommunications, such as telephone service.
  • An authorized person may disable the blocking or filtering measure during any use by an adult to enable access for bona fide research or other lawful purposes.
  • IPA does not require the tracking of Internet use by minors or adults.

This question is not a new one (I am sure it is one schools have contemplated as they have gone to 1:1 computing, purchased and distributed devices for student use like iPod Touches), but it is an important one worthy of discussion.   When we began to think about purchasing and circulating Kindles for students to use at school and to take home, we did consider this question.  In my reading and interpretation of CIPA, schools are required to adopt acceptable use/Internet safety policies and to block pornographic or obscene material.  In reading the language of CIPA, it is not clear if that filtering extends to networks outside the school environment, but my interpretation is that the emphasis  is on:

1.  having policies in place to protect students and to outline acceptable use

2.  you are filtering access to information on school campus, not the device itself; I do not interpret CIPA as extending to the home environment.  How would you filter a school device  on a network outside of your school network?

Fellow teacher-librarian Carolyn Foote shares a similar interpretation of CIPA as it relates to the circulation of the Kindle device.  In an email conversation Carolyn has given me permission to share in this space, she states:

My response to any question like this, however, is that since we are having parents and students sign a permission slip(based on yours) regarding appropriate use of the device, then if a student is using it inappropriately that falls within the acceptable use policy guidelines for your school in any case.  The issue isn’t the technology but the policy;  CIPA requires that districts adopt a policy regarding minors.  Your policy is the permission slip.  Parents have given specific permission for their students to use the Kindles.

I would further remind students that they aren’t to download any content without permission from the library, including samples.  Again, I think we have to put the onus on the policy, and the parental permission and student signature regarding their behavior using an electronic device.

At this time, we have district acceptable use policy in place as well as a Kindle user agreement that is signed by parents and students.  In addition, our school wireless network is filtered although we have found students cannot connect to our school’s wireless network via our Kindle devices at this time.    We also do not pay for 3G access for the device.  In terms of Internet access, the Kindle was not designed to be a device for browsing the web—while they can access the Amazon store and search Google on the latest generation, the primary purpose of the device is for reading downloaded books that are purchased and synced onto the Kindle by library staff.

I am not a CIPA or legal scholar, so I welcome others’ opinions and interpretation of CIPA to devices like Kindles, Nooks, netbooks, and iPads—how does your district apply CIPA to the use of these devices by students, especially off campus?

In addition to Carolyn Foote, many thanks also to Doug Johnson, Jeff Johnson, Gaile Loomis, Kathy Parker, and Sarah Houghton-Jan for helping me explore these questions related to CIPA, filtering, and eReader devices earlier this fall as well as this past week.