Acceptable Use Policies in K-12 Schools

Technology’s influence on contemporary K-12 education is undeniable.  Students today routinely conduct research online, plan and execute virtual science experiments, debate current events in Internet chat rooms, collaborate with peers via wikis and review math concepts by watching online instructional videos.  While these and other technologies have opened new and exciting windows to the outside world, they have also exposed our students to risks not typically associated with K-12 classrooms.

Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs) are attempts by school administrators to promote responsible technology use among students and staff in ways that ideally maximize learning opportunities and outcomes, discourage student misuse of resources, and minimize student exposure to harmful or inappropriate words, images or interactions.   School administrators typically publish the AUP on the school/district website and in student handbooks, often requiring parents and students to return signed copies, acknowledging they have read the AUP and agree to abide by the policies within.

Education World suggests following the AUP guidelines created by the National Education Association when writing an AUP (“Getting Started on the Internet,” n.d.).  According to the NEA, an effective AUP should contain the following elements:

  • A preamble detailing the goals of the AUP, as well as an explanation for why it is needed.
  • A definition section in which key policy terms are clearly defined to ensure accurate reading of the AUP by all community members.
  • A policy statement which describes which technologies are appropriate at school, as well as the conditions under which students may use them.
  • An acceptable uses section which conveys what the school considers “appropriate use” of computers and technology.
  • An unacceptable uses section which gives specific examples of what constitutes unacceptable student computer/technology use (e.g. cyberbullying, sending or viewing violent or pornographic images, plagiarism, etc.).
  • A violations/sanctions section which provides information for how to report unacceptable use, as well as how violations in the AUP will be handled by school administration.

While most school/district AUPs contain the appropriate sections and information described above, many are written from an overly negative perspective, focusing primarily on the consequences of unacceptable student use (McLeod, 2014).  Compounding this problem in tone are the words themselves: AUPs often read like documents written by and for attorneys, not students and their families.  Many schools, however, have chosen to buck this trend and create more student-friendly AUPs.  Siskiyou Union High School’s AUP spells out what steps students should take online to “Protect Yourself” and “Respect Yourself,” while Anastasis Academy promotes responsible technology use with “I will” statements.  Administrators at Science Leadership Academy clearly believe that explaining the “why” behind their policies will encourage students to make better choices than focusing on consequences of misuse, and school leaders in the Washoe County School District included a section entitled, “Network Etiquette” in their AUP written in simple, student-friendly language.

Whether you’re writing your school’s Acceptable Use Policy or updating it to include recent advances in technology, consider creating a student-friendly document that seeks to educate students and families, not just inform them of the consequences of misusing technology.  Choose language and craft rules that are easy to understand, provide clear examples of what both “acceptable” and “unacceptable” use looks like, and provide insight as to why these rules are important.  In short, think guidebook, not rulebook.


Getting started on the Internet: Developing an acceptable use policy (AUP). (n.d.). Education World. Retrieved from

Lehmann, C. (n.d.). Science Leadership Academy acceptable use policy. Retrieved from

McCloed, S. (2014). Instead of an AUP, how about an EUP (Empowered Use Policy)? dangerously!irrelevant: Technology, Leadership and the Future of Schools. Retrieved from

Siskiyou Union High School acceptable use agreement. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Washoe County School District acceptable use policy. (n.d.). Retrieved from


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