Separating Students From Smut
By Katie Dean
2:00 a.m. Aug. 30, 2001 PDT
Over the next year, schools will be in danger of losing precious
technology funding unless they can certify they have a filtering
system that blocks obscene websites.
The Children's Internet Protection Act requires that by Oct. 28,
schools must certify that they are either in compliance with filtering
requirements, or are in the process of becoming compliant by
evaluating blocking software.
For many schools, it will be easy to comply. According to the
Consortium for School Networking, 75 percent of schools use filtering
And while some believe this federal mandate is essential to protect
children from pornography and predators who troll the Net, others
believe that individual school districts should make their own
decisions about safe use of the Internet.
"We believe schools should be a safe haven for children -- a place
for children to learn and grow, not cesspools for the destruction of
the minds and souls of children," said Kristen Schultz, a legal policy
analyst with the Family Research Council.
"I think parents and teachers should warn children of the dangers of
porn but ultimately that is not enough," she said. "If there is no
filtering, children who use sites like Yahoo all the time can access
CIPA guidelines require that schools have in place "a policy of
Internet safety for minors that includes the operation of a
technology protection measure with respect to any of its computers
with Internet access that protects against ... visual depictions that
are obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors."
"Harmful to minors" is described as a picture or image that "appeals
to a prurient interest in nudity, sex, or excretion (and) depicts,
describes, or represents ... an actual or simulated sexual act or
sexual contact, actual or simulated normal or perverted sexual acts,
or a lewd exhibition of the genitals."
Schools are also required to adopt an Internet safety policy if they
do not already have one, and hold a public meeting to discuss that
Hooks Independent School District in Texas provides laptops to all
of its fourth- through twelfth-graders. They filter certain Web
addresses using Websense, and use a proxy server to log the Web
habits of each student.
"We know where every child has gone and for how long they've been
there," said Mychele Hughes, director of information services.
"Students know they are going to be monitored -- there's never a
question of whether they will or will not be."
The district also blocks instant messaging, chat rooms and MP3
"I just don't see what the big deal is," she said. "I don't think you
can really be too safe with your children."
Others think educators should make their own decisions.
"COSN's policy position was that this was not needed," said Keith
Krueger, executive director of the Consortium for School Networking.
"We believe in empowering local school leaders to make wise
decisions on Internet safety."
The staff at the Blue Valley School District in Overland Park, Kansas,
have focused their energy on teaching Internet literacy.
"We do not currently use any kinds of filtering or technology
blocking system, which is kind of unusual," said Bob Moore, the
executive director of Information Technology services. "In our
opinion, a filtering system implies a guarantee. There is not a
filtering system that is foolproof."
Moore said that instead of blocking, the school teaches students to
"know the territory you are in." Kids learn to find better search
results using Boolean searches. The school also emphasizes
responsible, ethical Internet use, he said.
"There are so many people that don't know how to use the Internet
that they focus on the dangers," Moore said. "Schools are often
accused of not being in the real world, yet we have a federal law
that's forcing us to prevent us from teaching real world skills as far
as the Internet is concerned."
"We don't wait until a kid is an adult to teach him how to cross the
street or to not talk to strangers," he added.
Moore said that the strategy has worked well so far, and the school
will continue to teach Internet literacy. The district will adhere to
CIPA guidelines and is currently reviewing filtering systems.
With or without filters, districts are clear that students will be
punished if they are caught abusing their Internet privileges.
"I'm very much a proponent of parental involvement," said Carol
Bird, technology director of the Fort Huachuca Accommodation
Schools in Sierra Vista, Arizona, which uses filtering. "Students know
that we won't hesitate to get the parents involved if there is a
"We've had Internet access for three years and I've probably had to
restrict two students," she said.
Often, peer pressure works in favor of district rules.
In the Hooks ISD, students will have their laptop confiscated if they
violate the "acceptable use policy," and they are unable to
participate in class activities.
Despite the fear that the Internet will harm children, Blue Valley's
Moore said that there is an even more prevalent, and age-old,
"We have far more complaints about written materials like certain
classics, novels, and plays than anything having to do with Internet
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