Chris Craft has posted an interesting scenario about the potential legal liability of using Slideshare, or any non-district-sponsored web service, that has advertisements that may be inappropriate for school-age children.

I will first offer my typical caveats that

  1. I am not in an attorney-client relationship with anyone reading this;
  2. Although I'm pretty sure that I'm correct, you rely on my opinions at your legal risk; and
  3. I always encourage educators to consult with their local school organization's attorney about any legal questions that they may have.

That said, here are my thoughts...

It seems to me that Chris' practice of embedding his Slideshare presentations within his district-sponsored Moodle system, combined with his district's blocking of Slideshare, should be enough to protect him from claims that he negligently exposed children to inappropriate Web content. He's not sending students to the Slideshare site directly. In fact, his district is blocking students' ability to do so. I think it's a bit of a stretch to say that Chris could be liable for students accessing the site from home. That would sort of be like trying to hold Chris accountable when a student used Google at home to look up inappropriate images just because the student also used Google at school (where access to such images was blocked).

If he wanted, Chris might be able to strengthen his case by including an explicit notice that he and the school have provided safeguards against access to inappropriate content, that students should access school-related content only within those safeguards, and that he and the school are not liable for students' deliberately bypassing those safeguards at home. Such a notice could be on his Moodle site, in a note sent home to parents, part of the student-signed acceptable use policy (see, e.g., a model AUP from the Indiana Department of Education), or all three. Another potential safeguard might be a popup window that appeared whenever a student clicked on a link to an external site. The text in the window could note that the student was leaving the district web environment and disclaim liability for any further actions by the student on other web sites.

The essence of negligence is whether educators acted reasonably under the circumstances. Given the safeguards already in place and maybe the additional ones that I've briefly described, I think Chris is probably okay when the situation is viewed in its totality. It's one thing to hold him and his school liable for a direct link to inappropriate content. The further away from direct linking a student gets (2 links? 5 links? 10 links?), the less likely a court would be to hold Chris and the school responsible. There's no bright line here, but 'reasonable conduct' should win the day...