What You Need to Know About eLearning and the Law
When technology and education mix, it is essential to know how to use both legally. Many schools are providing pre-approved e-learning that already aligns with your district's teaching methods.
However, this can still bring up challenges such as:
- Teachers need to quickly learn new tech and online curriculum
- Parents might search online for additional education materials*
- Parents and teachers might need to supplement lesson plans or homework
*Note: Supplemental e-learning or learning options for younger children can be tricky. It is easy to use materials that are not meant for personal or commercial use. Always check disclaimers and policies before using online resources.
General Policies on eLearning
As electronic learning expands, new laws and policies develop every year. Old laws can be outdated and focused on classroom teaching only, so not every school has a policy in place for elearning.
Schools that do not already have a policy tend to follow the overall industry guidelines:
- Be aware of the existing official procedures for getting or creating a curriculum
- Follow all current curriculum standards and approvals
- Consider how the education courses need to develop for students
Legal Issues With Distance Learning
Federal law will come into play with certain e-learning contracts and policies. Keep yourself on the right side of the law by:
- Reading the contract. Some companies will require an online contract about how you can use the content. Non-compete clauses or limits on the time you can use the materials are standard.
- Knowing if you are using non-profit, for-profit, or contractor education companies. Fees and policies can look very different for these types of businesses.
- Understanding who is responsible. If the content is incorrect or technology does not work, you need to know who is responsible. Pay attention to the contract language, and carefully read any language about "risk management."
- Knowing the costs associated with buying or renting curriculum materials. Ensure you understand what is due when so you don't run into any nonpayment issues or lose your rights to the materials.
Intellectual Property, Licensing, and Copyright Issues in eLearning
Someone made the content you are using (unless you are a teacher who created an accredited curriculum) or that you wish to use. This means, in many cases, you need permission to use the materials you found.
In general, teachers are given some leeway for using materials for education.
Some materials fall under the laws of "scholarly works," but these rules are not always black and white. For example, a teacher recording a video of themselves teaching a purchased curriculum may become a copyrighted work in its own right.
Educational materials can often fall under "fair use" laws. Essentially, there are specific ways someone can use copyrighted material without getting into trouble. You can learn more by using the fair use four-part test.
Online Learning and Harassment Issues
Having a child learn at home may give parents the chance to keep a closer watch on their online activities. If your child is being bullied or is bullying someone else, the normal state and school cyberbullying policies will apply.
Disability Accommodations for At-Home Online Learning
Students with disabilities likely have fewer services at home. Adjusting to home learning can be difficult without the help of classroom aids, therapists, individualized education programs (IEP), and other special education services.
The Department of Education has addressed serving children with disabilities through online education. Educators must comply with the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). However, federal disability law is flexible about how educators can best accomplish this, especially during national emergencies like pandemics.
The Center on Online Learning and Students With Disabilities has information and resources for parents and educators.
Technology Issues During At-Home Education
Many schools send their students home with iPads or other equipment to help with distance learning. Parents may be liable for broken equipment.
Tech issues may be handled through the school or the helpline of the electronics brand. Yet, some schools may tell parents that any tech issues are not their problem.
Using electronic communication can also bring up new policy questions, such as:
- Student and data privacy
- Email, mobile, and chat policies
- Standards for software or programs
- New schedules or assignment policies
Questions about these issues may be answered by your principal or school board.
Ethical Issues in eLearning
There are issues with e-learning that might be unethical, but don't exactly cross the line into illegal.
For example, people might promote or sell educational content that is not correct or developed by a licensed professional. To be sure you have accredited content or to learn more about e-learning policies, you can visit the websites of national associations such as:
- American Council on Education (ACE)
- Association of American Colleges & Universities (AACU)
- United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA)
- American Association of University Professors (see their Statement on Distance Education)
Another issue is people selling or promoting content that may be outdated. Check the last updated date to be sure you have the latest curriculum. Older materials may be cheaper, but they also might not have the information a student needs.
What to Do When Distance Learning Issues Come Up
Distance learning is still new for many schools, so, unfortunately, there isn't always a clear-cut answer to questions and issues that arise. Your state's education laws and local school board policies have the final say on distance learning questions.
Problems with student behavior or technology can often be answered by teachers or the school board.
If you think there is a legal issue with your eLearning curriculum, or you have faced problems related to students or the school board, then an education law attorney can listen to the details. Many offer a free consultation to tell you if you have a case and the next steps you might need to take.