Software

Talking Shop: School technology coordinator gets lesson in ethics

Explains a difficult scenario that a school technology coordinator was put into when he signed on with a corrupt school district

Our "What would you do?" column is a forum for sharing your knowledge and experience in dealing with the softer (though some may say harder) side of computer support: ethics. I’ll present a scenario that requires more than a technical solution. Each situation will be an accurate description of an actual event, with the names and other identifying factors changed to protect the innocent—and sometimes not so innocent. In four weeks, I’ll present feedback from the community members and present the actual outcome. Here’s our first real-life scenario. Once you've looked it over, I hope you'll take a moment to comment.

A bad situation gets worse: One TechRepublic member’s story
I graduated from college with a Master’s degree in educational technology and went to work for a school district as a technology coordinator.

When I arrived at the school district, I found that the servers were full and the district was downgraded from a T1 to a 56K for lack of the E-Rate funding needed to maintain the line. The e-mail server had crashed, and the district had no virus protection. I was working fast and furious trying to bring things up to speed. One of my first duties was to get an e-mail system up and running, which I soon did. I was then able to clean the old e-mail out of the server and make room for application upgrades and files.

Prior to this, teachers were asked to delete all unnecessary files and to save any e-mail they wanted to keep to their hard drives. As I was deleting e-mail I came across several very large recent files. I opened the files to see if they might be something important that should have been saved, and instead found that they were sexually explicit e-mails a female teacher was sending to a male student. I also found an e-mail documenting another female teacher’s sexual relationship with a sixteen-year-old student. Although this teacher had left the previous year, she was still attending school-sanctioned overnight field trips, where she was acting as a chaperone.

Time to take action
I brought the documents to my mentor and asked how I should proceed. She warned me that the teachers in question were very well liked by the building principal, and that another teacher had reported the problems the previous year and her contract was not renewed. She added that the district made it extremely difficult for the teacher to get a new job.

In spite of this, I felt I was ethically, legally, and morally obligated to pursue the issue. I took the documentation to the superintendent and, from our discussion, I felt that the issue would be addressed. However, the next day, the building principal was notified of my report and began a campaign of harassment. Teachers were told that I was “snooping” in their personal files and that I was attempting to “frame” the teachers in question. Later, several staff members stated that they were aware of the improprieties but chose to stay out of it for fear of repercussions. I was ostracized by some staff who also voiced their opinions to students, making my job as a teacher and technology coordinator even more difficult.

The evidence increases
As the months progressed, I continued to find evidence of impropriety. The building principal’s IP address was constantly popping up in the filtering report as accessing blocked sites. Since I was only allowed to set administration IPs to monitor and I was forced to open up many questionable sites to teachers, there was little I could do. In addition, one of the teachers in question was allowing her students to download a LiveSex.net program as well as access other sexually explicit sites. Midyear, students reported that this teacher had shown them how to bypass the filtering system. When I asked them to demonstrate, I found this to be true.

What would you do?
After reading this scenario, if you have ideas about how a satisfactory resolution might be achieved, send them to us. Don’t hold back, and don't be afraid to be creative. And if you've ever encountered a similar situation, we're particularly interested in hearing the steps you took to achieve a resolution.

You can submit your ideas either by e-mail or by posting a discussion item at the end of this column. A week after the publication of a scenario, we'll start putting together the most interesting solutions and common themes from the discussion. We will later present them with the situation's actual outcome in a follow-up article. You may continue to add discussion items after the first week has elapsed, but to be eligible for inclusion in the follow-up article, your suggestions must be received within a week of the scenario's publication.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.