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From R2-D2 to Paraprofessional? Legal Considerations When Robots are in the Classroom

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October 10, 2018

By Dana Fattore Crumley and Jackie Wernz

You may have seen a recent article from the National School Boards Association about robots in the classroom. If not, it a good and short read, particularly regarding the pedagogical questions to ask before employing artificial intelligence, or AI, in a room full of students. The article addresses some issues of privacy associated with the use of robots in the classroom, but its discussion of how AI might someday replace a caregiver for a baby got us thinking about a day when a robot might accompany a student with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) into the classroom, much like a paraprofessional might do now. What legal issues might need to be considered before taking such a step?

  • As the NSBA article suggests, questions will inevitably arise about the privacy of data if a robot has recording capabilities. One thing to keep in mind is that the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has taken the position that under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1964, student use of a recording device cannot be conditioned on a release from other students in the classroom or the parents of those students. That does not prevent you, however, from notifying parents of other students that there will be recording in the classroom. Just make sure you respect the delicate balance between the privacy rights of the student using the robot against the right of other parents to know what is happening in the classroom.
  • Robots can be used in the special education environment to help students who cannot attend class face-to-face. Remember that even if you can’t condition use on the agreement of those other students in the video, you should ensure that only agreed-upon persons are watching the feed on the other end of the line. It’s important that the written agreement between the school and the student and/or student’s parents to control this issue. The agreement should also include protections related to care for school property, acceptable use of technology, and other expectations.
  • Data Privacy. Whoever manufactures and operates that robot has a role to play in protecting the privacy of the data that the robot collects and stores. As with any technology in the school environment, it’s vitally important to carefully review, preferably with assistance of legal counsel, any agreement or terms of service with any companies involved to make sure that there are proper limitations on the company’s use of any data on the robot as well as to ensure that adequate security is in place to protect against hacking the robot’s feed or data.

As always, we are excited to see how emerging technology can help students achieve and succeed at school, and are confident that it can be used in a legally compliant manner. Are you seeing robots used in your classrooms, schools, or districts? Share your stories with us on Twitter at @FranczekRadelet.

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