Delegate authors bill to ban school boards from claiming student works -- Gazette.Net


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A Maryland legislator has proposed a bill to ban county school boards from claiming ownership of student works following a controversial policy draft under review by the Prince George’s County school board.

House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Dist. 29C) of Lusby said he introduced House Bill 1393 on Feb. 14 after learning that the county school system was looking to take ownership of students’ works.

House Bill 1393, according to the text, would prohibit any county school board from claiming ownership rights, property rights or copyright to student work products, including written reports, essays, tests, homework, personal class notes, art projects and computer software.

“School systems do not have a right to any student’s property, no matter what its form,” O’Donnell said, adding, “That includes photos, paintings, pictographs, whatever.”

But Verjeana Jacobs, chairwoman of the Prince George’s County school board, said it was never the intent of the proposal to claim ownership of students’ homework or art projects.

“We would never, ever try to assume control over any student’s work; we would never want to do anything that might stifle their creativity,” Jacobs said, adding, “To call this a misunderstanding would be an understatement.”

Jacobs said the proposed policy was written by staff to deal with software and apps developed for use in the classroom or on websites.

“Part of the point is we don’t want someone else coming in and taking their work without their consent,” Jacobs said.

The draft policy came up for a first reading before the school board during its Jan. 24 meeting; it was approved, but after public comment from education activist David L. Cahn, it was struck from the next meeting’s agenda.

Jacobs said the policy draft was unclear as to its actual intent and is being held pending further revision.

Although the proposal as originally presented refers to creations of both students and school system employees, Jacobs said she expects students will be removed from any future draft of the policy.

HB 1393 only covers student work, not products created by school system employees.

“I don’t care if they pull it completely,” O’Donnell said of the policy. “This bill isn’t about Prince George’s County; it has statewide application and is a statement of policy. It’s about the thought processes that would lead any board of education to think they could own or control the intellectual property of children.”

Cahn said he was pleased the proposal has been withdrawn, “but I reserve final judgment until I see the revised version. At least they were responsive to my comments.”

Cahn advised the board during its meeting to revise the proposal to protect students’ intellectual property rights. He said he supports HB 1393.

“The bill is an excellent step to protect students and encourage their creativity and innovation. I am pleased to see that it would apply statewide and not just in Prince George’s County,” Cahn said.

janfenson-comeau@gazette.net