Schools and computer-savvy students wrestle with Internet safety
DAMIAN DOVARGANES/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.
From The Kansas City Star.
Keep in mind these are model students talking.
Top scholars. Members of the superintendent’s advisory team on computers and digital education in the North Kansas City School District.
They know what many of their classmates have been up to.
They know how teens worm their away around the filters and blocks that schools here and throughout the nation use to control rebellious play on school-issued computers.
They know how some students are finding portals beyond the filters.
Administrator passwords are snatched and shared.
Winnetonka High School senior Luke Monsees describes it as a “culture war.”
On one side are schools that issue laptops with some limits. On the other side are students who challenge authority.
Many of Monsees’ peers, presented with a barrier, “like to say, ‘Oh yeah? Let’s see about that,’” he said. “They want to say, ‘I found a way to stick it to the man.’”
“It’s inevitable,” said 16-year-old junior Jordyn Eskijian.
Neither Monsees nor Eskijian suggested that they were spotlessly above any such chicanery, but their principal, Matt Lindsey, who was joined in the conversation with his star pupils, thought some record clearing was in order.
They too had used a proxy server, an alternative connection to the Internet, he noted.
Sheepish smiles. Snickers.
Yes, they had.
Time was, even just five to 10 years ago, that many schools were doing everything they could to completely ban students’ personal digital devices and severely patrol the limited computer access that students had in class.
Now that schools more and more see students as important allies in helping teachers take their classrooms into the world’s digital age, comfort levels with the unwieldy Internet are clearly being tried and tested.
The North Kansas City School District community knows as well as any how serious Internet protection can be.
Two weeks ago, prosecutors charged a 17-year-old Staley High School student with possession of child pornography, saying illicit photographs were downloaded on his school-issued laptop.
Other students had alerted a teacher, police said, and the school confiscated his laptop and phone and called police.
The extreme case stoked the fears that compel districts to keep updating their filters and to continue monitoring students’ online activity.
What’s really happening, though, is that school communities are having to figure out how to do what’s best for children who are growing up “in an unfiltered world,” said Keith Krueger of the Washington, D.C.-based Consortium for School Networking.
Schools do better, he said, when they allow students as they get older to take on increasing responsibility for practicing good online use.
“All technology fails at some point,” he said. “The best way to ensure that kids are safe is to make them the filter.”
But schools are aware that the road to digital responsibility is fraught with peril.
Under the Children’s Internet Protection Act of 2000, schools and libraries receiving federal funding must make efforts through filters and other measures to protect against access to material that is obscene, child pornography or harmful to minors.
They must have Internet safety policies that address the safety of children in chat rooms and social media, bar disclosure of personal information and guard against “hacking” and other unlawful activity by children.
Complications are many and ever-changing — which is why the Federal Communications Commission is currently trying to sort through new issues on how to apply the law.
Increasingly students, as well as visitors to schools, carry smartphones or computer tablets that have their own Internet access.
Should schools be required to ban or apply filters to non-school-issued wireless devices that enter the building? Do the law’s restrictions apply when students take school devices off campus and use outside networks not supported by the school’s federal funding?
The FCC’s decisions on these and other rule questions are still pending, agency spokesman Mark Wigfield said.
One thing that no area school district surveyed by The Star is considering is abandoning online access and digital classrooms.
Every district is expanding the computer and online access it is giving students.
Many districts, including North Kansas City, Kansas City, Kansas City, Kan., Shawnee Mission and Liberty, are providing laptops or tablets to all students in middle and high school.
Many are letting students bring in their own computers. Teachers may insist that students put away their smartphones during class, but the phones are allowed in school.
It may not be surprising that a Shawnee Mission teenager told The Star that within an hour after her school passed out personal computers, students were on Snapchat sharing links to a proxy server.
North Kansas City students were passing links to each other on flash drives.
The response from school administrators around the area is that schools are trying to create a responsible Internet culture that will be expected of their students as they go on to college and the work world.
Misuse is going to be punished, the same as an employer would reprimand an unproductive employee.
Most of the discipline incidents Kansas City Superintendent Steve Green glanced over on the printout in his hands were minor — students accessing blocked social media sites, taking and posting pictures from their laptops, getting on gaming sites.
The district continually updates its filters, he said. And Kansas City, like many districts, can remotely monitor any computer at any time and even shut it down if necessary — all of which is typical of the corporate world.
He knows you can’t expect a perfect net.
“The moment you think you’ve got it solved, you don’t,” Green said.
The schools “are trying to prepare students for life after high school,” said Eric Sipes, the executive director of information technology services, who is trying to stay ahead of those North Kansas City School District students.
“There is a wealth of knowledge on Google,” Sipes said. “And we have bright students in our midst who are going to become the computer programmers of the future … who will try to find a way around (the filters).”
Even the students who debated the wisdom and tactics of their schools’ Internet filtering are glad to have their computers in class — and that’s pretty universal, they said.
“They really benefit us,” Eskijian said. “I think students for the most part use them for the right purpose. With those that misuse them, that’s what comes with the freedom you give them.”
Those students who get caught, who suffer consequences and lose privileges, are getting schooled in responsibilities that await them in a digital work world, Monsees said.
“Even those who misuse it, they’re still learning.”