October 28, 2020
Director of Education
Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board
40 Matheson Boulevard West
Mississauga, ON L5R 1C5
Dear Dr. Mazzorato, I am writing you today to enquire regarding the ways in which your Board is protecting the privacy rights of your teachers and students in the hybrid or blended teaching model. I am the Director of Privacy, Technology and Surveillance at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), an independent, non-profit, nongovernmental organization, constituted in 1964 to promote and defend civil liberties in Canada.
Our organization has received several calls from teachers in your Board expressing their feelings of fear and anger over the sudden and significant change to their conditions of work, and also over the lack of information about how the very real risks to their own privacy, subjected to always-on cameras in the classroom, will be mitigated. I recommended that they address their concerns with their union, but I also committed to raising the issue with you, and hence this letter. CCLA as an organization, and every one of the teachers we’ve heard from, understands that these are difficult times, that changes are necessary to manage the ever-shifting needs and expectations of government, boards, parents and students; one person expressed it to us as recognizing, and being willing, to some extent, to “take one for the team.” But in exchange for that amazing flexibility and dedication, teachers need to know that best efforts are being made to think through and mitigate risks created by the new online/offline hybrid—which are similar but not identical to those risks facing teachers who are purely managing online classes.
I have seen the guidance provided to parents on your website, in the document entitled “Remote and Adaptive Learning Programs Privacy and Security Considerations, October 2020” and it is informative, although unclear as to what the consequences would be for families who fail to respect confidentiality expectations. It also seems to place a great deal of onus on teachers to follow “instructional practice that respects the privacy of learners.” Have teachers been, or will they be, given guidance as to what such practices are? Those who spoke with me had not, at the time of our conversation, and were deeply concerned at the thought of managing potentially challenging in-class behaviors while streaming live to many families where parents and guardians would be often watching, particularly in the younger grades. This is a new risk raised in the hybrid model, and one that is profoundly troubling for both teacher and student privacy and security in the learning environment.
There are no perfect policies, no perfect answers to solve the privacy problems raised by pandemic-forced integration of online learning into schools. But teachers and students need best efforts to anticipate and mitigate risk, and to support the educators who are being asked to do so much, in ever-changing conditions. I would appreciate learning from you the ways in which the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board is working towards ensuring that teachers’ and students’ privacy is appropriately safeguarded in the changing educational environment, beyond the publication of your current policy, and the ways in which you are supporting your teachers in their efforts to preserve their own, and their student’s privacy in this particularly difficult form of online/offline learning that has now been adopted by the Board.
Brenda McPhail, Ph.D.
Director, Privacy, Technology and Surveillance Project
About the Canadian Civil Liberties Association
The CCLA is an independent, non-profit organization with supporters from across the country. Founded in 1964, the CCLA is a national human rights organization committed to defending the rights, dignity, safety, and freedoms of all people in Canada.
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