What is an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) and why is it needed?

An AUP is a document designed to protect a school incase a student goes somewhere on the internet s/he shouldn’t.  With an AUP in place, a school can say the student violated the agreement, which the student (and parents, if the student is a minor) is required to sign before having access to computers at school, can place sanctions on the student for said violation and then walk away as if nothing happened (until the next time it does).  To some, this is a cynical view, to others it is the way it should be.  However, there is a different way.

According to Education World, the number one goal of an AUP should be student safety. All students should feel comfortable while in school, just as employees should feel comfortable while at work.  That level of comfort includes while online.  While rules and sanctions are needed, they are a reactive approach.  The less often they are necessary, the better it will be for all parties.  The best way to ensure that is by being proactive.  If the school promotes a sense of with freedom comes responsibility into the students, then many issues are solved by never occurring.  Thus, a better term would be a Responsible Use Policy (RUP).  Regardless of the name, Education World states that such policy should contain at least 6 elements.

  • The preamble is the reasoning behind the policy.

  • In the definition section, key words are defined.  Also, any terms that might cause confusion need clarified.

  • The policy statement lists what is covered by the policy and the conditions under which student usage is approved.

  • The acceptable and unacceptable uses sections provide examples of appropriate usage and places limits and prohibitions.

  • The violation/sanction section informs what to do in case of a violation of the AUP.

Unfortunately another important component is a waiver/release that must be signed by the student (and parents of minors) that protects the institution in cases where students violate the policy.  One way to neutralize this cold, legalistic document is by writing the policy in a more student-friendly, warm tone.  The only AUP I found that met these requirements was by the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh Charter School.  However, it focused a lot more on unacceptable use than it did on acceptable use and was rather lengthy. The North Hills School District, while lacking a definition section, was a much more student-friendly policy with clearly defined acceptable and unacceptable uses.

Regardless of the tone, the Tech and Learning Blog list a few guidelines that should be followed when creating these policies.  The policy should be focused on people and behavior, not gadgets and media, otherwise, every time a new device is introduce, the policy would need to be rewritten.  Therefore, they should be an all-inclusive brief yet, concise document.

The Art Institute of Pittsburgh has a two page document (the previously mentioned Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh Charter School has a 17-page document).  Their creation should not come from the top down but, they should involve all the affected parties. This again goes back to the aforementioned philosophy linking freedom and responsibility. Sadly, many schools, like SciTech, take the top down approach.  Finally, they need to be customizable to specific populations.  The language needs to be age appropriate to the students.  A policy for first graders, while similar in intent, would not be a good fit for high school seniors.


Art Institute of Pittsburgh. (n.d.). The Art Institute of Pittsburgh student housing network policy. Retrieved from http://aipstudent.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Tech-Waiver.pdf

Education World. (n.d.). Getting started on the Internet: Developing an acceptable use policy (AUP). Retrieved from http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/curr093.shtml

North Hills School District. (n.d.). Policies. Retrieved from http://www.nhsd.net/policies.cfm?pid=26902&searchwords=

Pittsburgh Public Schools (n.d.). Pittsburgh Public Schools acceptable use policy, information security policy and password policy user agreement and parent consent. Retrieved from http://www.pps.k12.pa.us/cms/lib/PA01100449/Centricity/Domain/89/aup_student_agreement.pdf

SciTech. (n.d.). Introduction to the technology & laptop program. Retrieved from http://discoverpps.org/resources/522f3f84aa681/SciTech%20Technology%20AUP.pdf

TechLearning.com. (n.d.). Tech Learning TL advisor blog and ed tech ticker blogs from TL blog staff. Retrieved from http://www.techlearning.com/Default.aspx?tabid=67&EntryId=4355

Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh Charter School. (2013-2014). The Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh Charter School technology use and CIPA policy. Retrieved from http://ulgpcs.org/ourpages/auto/2013/3/22/29092556/ULGPCS%20IT%20POLICY%202013-14.pdf