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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Policing Students Online: The Increasing Threat of School-Sanctioned Digital Surveillance


This article provides an overview of how the surveillance systems that are being increasingly deployed against K–12 public school students and their families operate, highlighting the ways in whic they function as a covert form of school policing. In doing so, we ground our analysis in the decades-long work of organizers and activists to reimagine the learning environment, or “school climate,” and heed the warnings of organizers in the broader movement for prison-industrial complex abolition to reject systems of racial and social control and surveillance, including those that purport to promote safety and well-being but “manifest as punishment for those experiencing them.” Next, we discuss the civil rights and civil liberties concerns these surveillance systems illuminate, with a focus on the unique and disproportionate harms they inflict on marginalized students, including students of color and LGBTQ students. We conclude by highlighting the legal conflicts that arise when public schools require the use of these technologies, providing recommendations on how California constitutional and statutory law can be leveraged to challenge the installment of the surveillance infrastructure in the K–12 educational context as the movement to end policing in schools carries on.

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