Lawmakers, Parents Concerned About School Internet Filters

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Concerns over what kids can see on school-issued devices are growing after a spate of incidents involving pornography and material that parents found objectionable.

In Utah, Rep. Keven Stratton is sponsoring bill HB213, which if passed would require school community councils to ensure that internet filters on school-issued devices hold up both on and off school grounds. Morgan Jacobsen reports that it also would require instruction for students on:

“… safe technology utilization and digital citizenship that empowers a student to make smart media and online choices; and a parent or guardian to know how to discuss safe technology use with the parent or guardian’s child.”

The bill was inspired by a phone call from Stratton’s daughter’s school principal, who reported that she and some peers had been accidentally exposed to pornography on a mobile device intended for the classroom. Courtney Stratton said:

“It took me a minute to cope with what was being said, but as I listened, I realized that there weren’t procedures or protocol to handling this. My main concern was to ensure the well-being of my child at that point, but I did have the question as to why this type of material was available and easily accessed at a public school and on a public school device.”

The bill, according to state superintendent of public instruction Brad Smith, would not force the hands of school districts since all of them already implement some sort of filtering system for student internet usage. However, some detractors argue that it is inappropriate to legislate how parents raise their children.

Other districts have recently reported similar problems with technology filter failures.

In Lee’s Summit, Missouri, at least ten second-graders were exposed to pornography and inappropriate comments via a school-issued computer, according to CNN Wire. Kris Mojica, the parent of one of the students, reported seeing “hardcore pornography” featuring two nude women.

Meadow Lane Elementary School gave their students Chromebooks that had a filter that blocked inappropriate content on YouTube, but it escaped the notice of school officials that the filter was disabled in late January and early February by an update that accidentally rendered it ineffective. Mojica, however, complains that even with an active YouTube filter, the students could still access anything they wished via a simple web browser search. Haley Harrison writes that school officials are working with the developers of the filter to prevent future lapses.

Students in Los Angeles’s iPad pilot found that they could bypass internet filters. After deleting their personal profiles off of the device, which PC Mag’s Angela Moscaritolo assures us is an easy process, students had free reign to visit any site they chose.

Lisa Alva, an academic services coordinator within LAUSD, said “We don’t know when or if we will be able to use the iPads again for classroom instruction — this week, this semester, or this year.”