Friday, April 12, 2024

The school district is halting the use of grading and anti-plagiarism software after parents protested a form that seemed to claim ownership of students’ homework.

During online discussion, one parent said he was “shocked” to see what the district’s consent form for asked:

“Once [student] works are posted … all rights in the work shall be held by the Web 2.0 activity to use, in all manner and media as it determines in its sole discretion,” says the fine print on a form parents must sign so their kids can use the system. “I also understand that the Web 2.0 activity shall own all rights, title and interest, including the copyrights(s), in and to the oral history works, to be used and disposed in perpetuity without limitation as the Web 2.0 activity shall determine in its sole discretion.”

Another parent on an online forum called the policy “vastly overreaching” and “unfair,” but School Committee members, while acknowledging there’s a problem with the language, were not as immediately alarmed. With use of the consent forms frozen while the district looks at their need as written, Patty Nolan called comment over them simply “a good instance of parents noticing something in our forms and asking good questions,” and Marc McGovern suggested calm was in order while the review was taking place.

“It sounds like standard legal language, and they didn’t think about how it would be taken,” McGovern said of district officials. “I’m not sure they fully thought it through, but they heard the concerns and are looking at it, and there may or may not be changes.”

Instituting the policy was not a committee issue, and McGovern said Superintendent Jeffrey Young said it is being taken care of by the administration. If the matter isn’t handled to parents’ or committee members’ satisfaction, the committee could take it up, he said, but he cautioned against overreacting.

Young said a review of the consent form should be completed next week, along witha media release form that drew similar concerns from parents.

The language also doesn’t belong to the company itself. Parents identified it as being chosen by the district, and Chris Harrick, vice president of marketing for Turnitin, confirmed Tuesday that his company’s end user license agreement does not claim copyright over student papers.

“Students always retain rights to their work,” Harrick said. “Turnitin searches against these papers under fair use, but the student maintains ownership over their intellectual property.”

Parents also said they were wary of plagiarism-detecting software, which has been known to produce false positives, but more attention was paid to the copyright issues.

Select English teachers have used Turnitin “for some time,” Young said, and finding it to be “quite popular with CRLS teachers,” the high school bought a license last year to cover all disciplines — although it remains used mostly by the English department.

This post was updated Sept. 27, 2012, with Young’s comments.