Yarmouth's Plan to Keep Children Safe on the Internet
As you know, the Internet contains pretty much everything that has ever been written or photographed. It is a great resource, but not all material is suitable for all users. While we can do a fairly good job of choosing what books, magazines, etc. come into our homes, classrooms, and libraries, we cannot be sure of what material children will come across - either intentionally or by accident - on the Internet. Yarmouth has chosen four methods to protect children from the risks the Internet provides.
"Yarmouth has chosen four methods to protect children - and ourselves - from the risks the Internet provides. Though case law is just now emerging on Internet safety in schools, it appears that we need each method."
1) Supervision: Whenever possible, classroom and lab computer screens should be visible to the instructor if students are using them for Internet or e-mail access. All lab computers should be visible from the front of the room. In classrooms, where computer placement is more difficult, teachers should develop procedures so students know the instructor could be walking by at any moment.
2) Training: A systematic staff development program must be established to ensure staff members are current on Internet policy and use. The primary focus should be for staff to assist students in achieving the learning results. Students must be carefully trained in appropriate use, as well as provided with strategies to evaluate the material they locate on the Internet.
3) Internet Acceptable Use Policy: All Yarmouth staff and students are required by school committee policy to read our Internet Acceptable Use Policy. This places the responsibility for abuses on the shoulders of the abuser, rather than the instructor or the institution, but does not remove the need for adequate supervision.
4) Internet filtering: Filtering remains controversial as it raised censorship issues, but we already "filter" material by choosing which books and magazines to have in our classes and libraries. Yarmouth Schools have a filtering system built into our SonicWall firewall. The company has a team of people whose sole responsibility is to "surf" the Internet evaluating web sites. A database has been created that "blocks" sites which have been deemed unsuitable based upon certain criteria including language, violence, sex, etc. If a student attempts to go to one of those sites (intentionally or as a result of a search) he/she receives a polite message explaining that "That site or search term is block by Yarmouth's Sonic firewall." Users are also unable to search for inappropriate words or phases. The technology coordinator has passwords that allow a teacher to unlock a computer for a brief period to permit access to sites that might be restricted but educationally sound. For example, the Starr Report on President Clinton is blocked due to its graphic nature, but may have value in certain classroom situations.
Internet filtering looks different at the elementary schools. In all cases at Rowe, and almost all cases at YES, teachers are sitting with students when they access the Internet. At those schools, the problems relate more to searches on an innocent topic such as "bunnies" which can find some not-so-innocent sites. Another problem is inexperience. A simple error such as typing "Whitehouse" instead of "www.whitehouse.gov" would, without filtering, take a child to a very different kind of site.
The system is not foolproof since more than 3000 new sites come on-line each day, but it's the best available. If a teacher should come across a site he/she feels should be blocked but isn't, we can block individual sites at the local level.
"...searches on innocent topics such as "teddy bears" or "bunnies" ...can find some not-so-innocent sites."
Will these precautions prevent all of our problems? No, but we will do everything "reasonable" to prevent technological abuse while still providing access to the valuable reources of the Internet. Like everyone else involved in this new endeavor, we will be watching as new laws and regulations are passed and as case law develops.