Needing to install things is kind of the point of needing the laptop, so it makes perfect sense that they want to install Office, AV, and certificates. There are no surprises there. To do that, they need admin access, but I would want to revoke that access once they were done.
I would want to know the list of everything they want to install, and if they have central control over the AV (and if they do, why they want that).
If your worry is that they might install malware, then download a Live CD of an anti-malware program and run it on the laptop after they are done.
If the laptop is only used for school work, then there is really no harm here. If your child will be using it for other things, then there might be some privacy conflicts.
The onslaught of comments and the split in votes highlights a difference in understanding of the operating model here. This is not a situation where the school wants sudden control of a personal device. This is a situation where the school is asking the parent to purchase a device for the school to control and this answer is meant to be applied in this model. The school needs to be able to control the device as a part of due care (and remember that the child in this case is a minor; 12 or 13). In terms of protecting the child’s privacy, my advice to make sure that the device is only used for school work holds.
The fact that the parent can retain admin control is a great thing for the protection of the child, something that would not be possible if the school owned the device. The parent can inventory, patch, and uninstall.
This operating model means that the school can ensure consistency of software, which would be required for teaching consistency, it lowers the cost to the school (yes, it increases direct costs to the parents, but does offer cost efficient options) and it offers due care controls for the protection of the child. You just have to shift your mindset that just because you bought the device does not mean that you should have 100% control of the device.
And again, with the new onslaught of comments, I say: consider the idea of a “burner” device. You own it, but it is meant to be, at least in part, out of your control and properly classified for certain activities.
If the operating model was that the school wanted sudden control of a personal device, my answer would be very different (more like AviD’s).
It might just be because I am already “that parent”, but it would be a strong NO from me – and the school administration would get a strong talking to about this. I would push to have that policy changed (though without much hope), for everyone and not just my own child.
There are privacy issues. Security issues. Potentially legal issues – is the software licensed? Cracked? Are they logging all traffic from the laptop, or more? Do they want to install custom software?
And, why are they even asking for all this? What justification could they have.
They want to ensure the children are safe online.
Fine, require some form of parental control. It’s your laptop, it’s your child – it’s your responsibility. (E.g. my son’s school requires content filtering on smartphones brought into school. They “demand” some dodgy app by a local fellow. I declined and installed a proper app.)
They want to ensure children’s laptops are secure.
Great, first lesson “how to stay safe online”. Require Windows Defender (or some other AV/AM) is active and updated, etc. Though this really shouldn’t matter to their network…
They want to ensure children are not accessing illegal / inappropriate sites.
First of all, it only concerns them inside/during school. None of their business at home… And they can easily set up a locked down proxy for the school network.
And again, at home they should still have the parental control / filtering software anyway.
They want to educate your children.
Oh do they? Because this sounds like the opposite of that. This is an educational opportunity, a veritable goldmine for several topics, and they are going the other way.
You might need to discuss with the teachers, the principal, the school board… You might need to reeducate them about this. And you might even lose, but fighting this is the right thing to do – as @Mike and some of the commenters mentioned, best chance to teach your kids about safeguarding your own privacy and preventing onerous demands from misguided authority. 🙂
You have no real way to tell exactly what they’ve changed. Some schools are excessively nosy or controlling.
And even if the district is being respectful of your privacy, they could have a rogue admin in their ranks.
Others have been bitten.
There have been lawsuits because of blatant misconduct before. They have alternatives, so administrative access should not be necessary.
How should they do it?
Cloud-based software requires no installation. As long as you have a modern OS and web browser, you’re ready to go. While I dislike cloud apps in a number of scenarios, it’s perfect for bring-your-own-device (BYOD) scenarios. Obviously, they did not choose this if they’re asking for admin rights. You might suggest it to them.
With volume-licensed software, they should able to provide a product key or setup a license server on their network. (The stuff that requires license servers is more common for university-level applications, but I’ve heard of it in technically-oriented college prep schools, too.)
What would I do?
I would install the applications myself. It doesn’t take a lot of time, and typically they don’t change over the course of the year.
Certificates can be installed very easily on Windows, but I’d have to see them first before I could say whether or not that’s a good idea.