by Claudine Gallacher, MA
It’s true. Parents and teachers can’t depend on filters to provide internet safety for elementary school students. Filters regularly fail to protect kids from online pornography. Even on school devices. It’s especially important for parents to investigate the internet safety policies at their kid’s school so they can work with administrators to protect kids.
Earlier this month, Kristen shared the story of Lydia’s daughters who were exposed to pornography through their elementary school classroom computers. Now I’ll provide further reasons why solely relying on school filters to protect children is risky. Over the past couple of years, there have been a tragic number of filter fails at elementary schools!
There are important steps that schools and parents must take to better protect young kids. I’ll offer one practical suggestion for schools and give parents 3 tips to ensure kids are safe even when internet safety at school is inadequate.
[PARENT BONUS: Get your FREE GUIDE 10 Things Every Parent Must Learn About Their Child’s Digital Education at the bottom of this post.]
Internet Safety Fail in Illinois: Out of Date Filters
A 2014 article reported “three students at Forest Glen [Elementary] were disciplined after…using school devices [on school property] to view pornography.” Many parents in this Illinois community felt the problem was “widespread” and that district officials were not “acting fast enough” to address the issue.
District officials admitted that their personal electronic policy and their filtering system was “out of date.” Even after the incident at Forest Glen, other schools in the district hosted a technology day, allowing kids to bring devices from home without any internet safety precautions. One parent called this decision an “epic failure.”
Internet Safety Fail in Missouri: 2nd Graders See Adult Content
In February 2015, a 2nd grader was exposed to a video of “naked girls having sex” while using the Chromebook given to her by Meadow Lane Elementary School in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. At least 10 other students at Meadow Lane also saw “adult content” while at school. Apparently, a “glitch” in the filtering system occurred, allowing access to YouTube videos that were usually blocked. Kris Mojica, a parent, said even after the district took measures to re-block YouTube, he could still access graphic content by using the web browser on the device.
Internet Safety Fail in California: IPads Have No Filters
The same month that Mojica was speaking out in Missouri, five California parents plead with the Encinitas Union School District Board of trustees to find a way to filter the iPads the district had already given (K-12) students. When Amber Goodson’s kids “saw pornographic material from a classmate’s tablet” she was shocked, declaring, “I’d assumed that these iPads…my school had given to my kids were safe…[then I] did a bit of research and quickly learned something terrifying: these school iPads have no filters” once they leave school grounds. Many kids were downloading porn from home and bringing it back to school to show other kids. Another epic fail!
With very little forethought, the Encinitas district decided that it would only assume responsibility for filtering their iPads while the devices were on school property. The district insisted that administrators “cannot control what is accessed or loaded onto the device at home. That is the responsibility of the student, and parent or guardian.”
One proactive father installed a filter on the device himself. However, when his son took the device back to school, the teacher removed the filter! Seriously?!?!
Amber Goodson persistently emailed the superintendent of the Encinitas School District for nine months before the district found a solution that allowed student iPads to be filtered both on and off school grounds. It’s impossible to say how many kids were accessing pornography or exposed to pornography during this time. Major epic fail!
Even More Internet Safety Fails!
An Epidemic of Elementary School Kids Exposed to Pornography on School Devices
Failures like these are not limited to Illinois, Missouri, and California. Just read the news reports about elementary school kids who have been exposed to pornography on school devices in Oregon, Washington, Florida, Michigan, Texas, Utah, Tennessee, New York, and North Carolina. The same trend is showing up in other countries as well, including Canada, Scotland, England, and India.
Pornography exposure at elementary schools is not only common, it has become an epidemic. By the time kids are in middle school, regular pornography viewing has become the norm.
Why Aren’t Schools Protecting Kids?
The simple truth is that even schools with the most proficient filtering systems “cannot guarantee that users will never be able to access offensive materials using district equipment” because “content filters are not foolproof.” Filters fail and when they do, kids are at risk.
Schools Need to Prepare Kids
If kids might be exposed to something that adults know is harmful to them, schools have an ethical responsibility to prepare kids for this possibility. Along with fire drills and earthquake drills, kids need instruction and practice in how to stay safe in the event of an internet filter failure. Preparing kids with this skill is the essential component missing in Digital Citizenship curriculum.
How Can You Make Sure Your Child is Protected at School?
- Educate. Teach your child to understand the need for an internal filter like the CAN DO Plan™. As Lydia’s daughters proved, internal filters travel with children wherever they go!
- Practice. Once your child knows the safety plan, practice your own internet filter failure drills at home. Have your child pretend to see an inappropriate picture on a home device and demonstrate how to stay safe. Then have the child pretend the same thing happens at school. Make sure your child know what steps to take when exposed to pornography in an environment other than home.
- Investigate. Make sure you understand your school district’s approach to internet safety. To receive a free copy of our guide 10 Things Every Parent Must Learn About Their Child’s Digital Education, click on the box below.