The Internet has vastly expanded educational resources and opportunities for students and teachers. Students use the Internet both as a research tool and a means of communicating. The question responsible administrators and teachers need to ask is precisely what sort of research and communication the students are doing. There is a big difference between using the Internet to find biographical material of a local author, for example, and logging onto web sites to find out the latest gossip about a favorite pop music star. More dangerous still, some student use a school e-mail account to join a chat group. Teenagers in particular may feel that they possess enough maturity to make informed choices about what they are doing, but they may inadvertently lead themselves into harm's way. The not uncommon reports of adults being arrested for trying to meet up with minors they met in chat rooms are a red flag for most school districts.
Many districts avoid the issue by not providing students with their own e-mail accounts. They argue, quite convincingly, that student e-mail is difficult to monitor and ties up too many resources that could be used for other activities. A number of educators, however, believe that e-mail has become so essential that students should be trusted with the responsibility until they do something to violate that trust. Software programs that filter e-mail and Internet sites is only a partial solution; a student who wants to view a particular site may be resourceful enough to be able to get past such barriers. Beyond those students who might willfully engage in irresponsible activity online, there are also students who may unwittingly create trouble for themselves or others. A student who is not computer savvy might inadvertently disclose personal information over the Internet, for example
Districts that do offer e-mail accounts to students have found that establishing an "acceptable-use" policy is essential to maintaining good "netiquette" among students. An acceptable-use policy begins by setting ground rules for when and how students can use the Internet and e-mail. Typically, students are expected to use appropriate language, to avoid off-limit sites and chat rooms, and to refrain from misuse of e-mail, such as spamming (sending unsolicited mass postings to hundreds of e-mail addresses). Students are also prohibited from using Internet information inappropriately (for example, downloading term papers or plagiarizing from web sites). Students are advised that the school has the right to review all electronic correspondence to ensure compliance with the established rules, and anyone violating those rules can be disciplined. For serious or repeat offenses, a student's Internet privileges can be revoked. Both students and parents are usually required to sign the acceptable-use policy.
The Internet is not the only high-tech tool that students have at their disposal. Cell phones are extremely popular with teenagers; pagers are perhaps less so. Some school districts have school cell phone policies that do allow students to carry pagers for exceptional reasons, such as a medical condition that might require the student to contact help immediately. For general use, however, cell phones and paging devices are as distracting in a school building as they are everywhere else. Most schools have a cell phone policy with rules against bringing cell phones or pagers onto school property.