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School Email Accounts: Public or Private?
By Joy Jameson 07-Jun-16
Should school email accounts be considered as private or public domain? That is to say, should school administrators have free access to teachers’ school email accounts and the privilege of reading the emails in the accounts? More importantly, what is the motivating force behind this controversial policy that is already in place in various international schools? It is common practice for international schools to offer their staff school email accounts. The accounts make life easy since the names and addresses of all staff members are readily available and the school can easily send school-related messages to staff members. However, does your boss or other appointed school staff member have the right to enter into your account at will and read all of your emails? Even if you have nothing to hide, is it morally and legally correct for the school to allow this? To avoid any legal issues, schools usually ask staff members to sign a document stating that the accounts are not private. If the form is not signed, the staff member cannot use the school email system, which makes working at the school next to impossible since all school-related messages are solely communicated through this system and the staff member will be unable to use school computers. Therefore, staff members have no choice except to sign the form. In addition, some administrators go so far as to proclaim their desire for transparency and openly announce to the staff that they will be nosing through staff email accounts on a regular basis. This public vs private domain for emails can become a very controversial topic. On one hand, it allows administrators to have tight control over staff members, to keep on top of things, and to immediately identify any staff members that might create problems for the school. It also curtails any desires a teacher might have to communicate with parents for fear that administrators might find fault with the emails or consider them inappropriate. On the other hand, it seems very intrusive and inappropriate for the school to allow this. Some staff members feel that it’s like going through a briefcase left on a table when a person leaves the room momentarily. It would be interesting to know how administrators and others assigned this task feel while snooping through staff email accounts. Do they feel like James Bond on a super special admin mission, or do they feel more like scumbags being forced to take on a job that goes against their moral fiber in order to save their own jobs? What happens when some highly personal or health-related information is discovered? Do they discuss it with the staff member, share it with other administrators, or just keep quiet? It can also be said that this practice exhibits a high degree of paranoia on the part of the administration. If the school climate is at a point at which the staff in general cannot be trusted, then it would seem that more extensive actions than snooping in email accounts need to be taken to improve the situation. This email policy can also backfire and breed distrust on the part of the staff, thus creating more serious problems for the school. Administrators and others involved in reviewing staff email accounts also risk losing the respect of the staff members who feel that it is a morally incorrect policy. Perhaps there are a small percentage of staff members needing monitoring on a regular basis, but is it fair to punish the whole staff for the faults of a few? This policy makes one wonder. What has happened to the concepts of trust and teamwork? Wouldn’t it be better for administrators and their trusted assistants to concentrate their time on more positive and worthwhile school projects?
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