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CyberSafety → Position Paper on Recommendations for Internet Safety

Position Paper on Recommendations for Internet Safety

First published in 2002

Introduction

The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was signed into law in December 2000. Consequently, schools receiving certain federal funds and E-rate discounts are required to comply with CIPA provisions. CIPA stipulates that schools must have an Internet safetypolicy and Internet technology protection measures to shield both adults and children from visual depictions that are obscene, contain child pornography or are harmful to minors. Seventy-four percent (74%) of the nation’s school systems are addressing their concerns about Internet safety by using technology protection measures. (Borja, 2002) (See references).

In November 2001, a work group was formed to recommend updates to Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) strategies for Internet safety. The work group was co-chaired by the offices of Instruction and Program Development and Global Access Technology. In developing appropriate strategies for managing Internet access, the work group considered the requirements for both a safe computing environment and the instructional needs of students.

Resource-based instruction requires staff and students to have a wide variety of diverse materials to use in teaching and learning. The Internet is an important source for these materials providing access to a broad range of content in electronic format to complement the traditional print formats to enhance instruction and support learning, for example:

  • Web sites and education portals provide current up-to-date information; for example, news, weather, and primary source materials.
  • Electronic books can be used for personal and academic success.
  • Multimedia materials help students with different learning styles to understand more abstract concepts.
  • Electronic mail provides a communication tool that allows students to gather their own data through surveys and interviews, and facilitates collaboration among teachers and students.
  • Multimedia applications provide more equitable access to learning resources for students with disabilities.

While the potential for each of these computer applications to add rich and relevant learning experiences for students is significant, there exists the possibility for students, teachers, and/or staff to be exposed to materials that are not appropriate for teaching and learning. In fact, some of these materials could be considered “harmful to minors.” In order to create a safe learning environment that continues to promote intellectual growth and at the same time bring MCPS into compliance with CIPA, the school system will use a technology protection measure to manage Internet content.

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Current Practices in Montgomery County Public Schools

Many practices were already in place to provide safe and appropriate use of the Internet by students and will continue. These strategies include the following practices and procedures:

  • Regulation IGT-RA, User Responsibilities for Computer Networks and Network Security, outlines the responsibilities of students for appropriate use of the Internet and describes the consequences for failure to act responsibly when using online resources.
  • Students are expected to be supervised at all times.
  • Library media specialists and teachers are trained in the use of the Internet to provide these educators with the skills and expertise to use this online resource as an effective teaching tool.
  • Library media specialists and teachers evaluate, select, organize, and make available web sites on individual school home pages to assist students and teachers in accessing appropriate information to support the curriculum.
  • Instructional staff monitors Internet use of the students.

Even with these measures in place, there are no guarantees that students will not find their way to sites on the Internet that could be “harmful to minors.” It is impossible to evaluate all of the resources available through the Internet to ensure that the materials appropriately support and facilitate learning as outlined in the MCPS curriculum, even though many teachers and library media specialists attempt to do so. In addition to the strategies identified above that are used by teachers and library media specialists to ensure a safe and productive learning environment, MCPS will implement a technology protection measure. While protecting students from materials that are deemed “harmful to minors,” implementing these measures will also facilitate good instructional practice by minimizing distractions to the learning process and limiting exposure or potential exposure to inappropriate materials.

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Technology Protection Measure

CIPA requires implementation of a technology protection measure which shields Internet access by both adults and minors to visual depictions that are:

  1. Obscene
  2. Child pornography
  3. Harmful to minors.

CIPA further states that administrative procedures must be in place addressing:

  1. Access by minors to inappropriate matter on the Internet and World Wide Web
  2. The safety and security of minors when using electronic mail, chat rooms, and other forms of direct electronic communications
  3. Unauthorized access, including so-called “hacking” and other unlawful activities by minors online
  4. Unauthorized disclosure, use, and dissemination of personal information regarding minors; and
  5. Measures designed to restrict minors’ access to materials harmful to minors.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, harmful to minors means any picture, image, graphic image file, or other visual depiction that taken as a whole and with respect to minors appeals to a prurient interest in nudity, sex, or excretion; depicts, describes, or represents, in a patently offensive way with respect to what is suitable for minors, an actual or simulated sexual act or sexual contact, actual or simulated normal or perverted sexual acts, or a lewd exhibition of the genitals; and taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value as to minors.

Additionally, CIPA addresses adult access. It is the responsibility of the local educational agency to ensure it is enforcing a policy of Internet safety that includes a technology protection measure that prevents access to child pornography; and visual depictions that are obscene and is monitoring the operation of these measures.

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Implementation of a Technology Protection Measure

The technology protection measure will be implemented through the use of software and hardware technology. Software commonly identifies major categories that represent topical areas that are deemed inappropriate or harmful to minors. Through the use of a variety of tools, the software identifies and evaluates sites based on the categories. These sites are stored in a database used by the software. A variety of methodologies are used to identify and evaluate sites. These methodologies include comparing requested sites to a database of inappropriate sites from identified categories, teams of reviewers who access and review individual sites, and automated tools to search for identifiers related to inappropriate material. The database of web sites is updated daily or as required.

MCPS uses a variety of methodologies to maintain the list of sites including daily updates. In addition, changes may be made by MCPS as outlined in the Evaluation and Selection Process (Blocking/Unblocking Sites) section of this document.

In order to provide a safer Internet environment and bring MCPS into compliance with the CIPA requirements, the following recommendation is made regarding categories. In addition to preventing access to visual depictions as specified in CIPA, access to text and audio depictions will be prevented as well. There should be two levels of access, one for students and one for staff.

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Student-Level Access

The categories from which students will be shielded are:

  • Adult/Sexually explicit — material that is sexually oriented, adult products and services, explicit cartoons and animation
  • Criminal Skills — information about performing illegal acts
  • Hacking — information about questionable or illegal use of equipment and/or software
  • Drugs, Alcohol and Tobacco — recipes, encouragement or instructions in the use of alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs, or other substances that are illegal to minors
  • Hate Speech — advocating or inciting degradation or attack of specified populations or institutions; promoting political or social agenda that is supremacist in nature, is militant or extremist
  • Violence — portraying, describing, or advocating physical assault against humans, animals, or institutions; excessive use of profanity
  • Weapons — online purchasing or ordering information; information detailing the use of guns, weapons, ammunition or poisonous substances

Additionally, in order to meet the CIPA requirement to minimize “unauthorized disclosure, use, and dissemination of personal information regarding minors,” access to un-moderated chat rooms and Web-based anonymous electronic mail is restricted.

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Staff-Level Access

The categories from which staff will be shielded are:

  • Adult/sexually explicit
  • Criminal skills

While the staff level of access provides broader access to Internet content, the access is for educational purposes only.

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Instructional Implications of a Technology Protection Measure

In determining the categories, careful consideration has been given to the instructional implications. Considerations include providing a safer environment for students to access web sites needed to support the curriculum and the ability to use the Internet for research activities.

Over the past year, there has been a significant increase in reports of students accessing web sites that contain inappropriate material. There have been a growing number of incidents of hacking and opportunities for unauthorized disclosure of information. The goal of implementing a technology protection measure is to provide a safer environment while permitting access to the wide variety of rich resources available on the Internet to support instruction.

A concern raised about the use of technology protection measures from an educational perspective is that staff and student access to legitimate information will be compromised. While the software will prevent access to sites containing information in the identified categories, a full array of resources in multimedia format will continue to be available in support of the curriculum and for research activities. Web sites used for subject matter such as art, literature, health education, and topics of historical significance or newsworthy events will continue to be available. If access is prevented from sites that support the curriculum and legitimate research and do not violate CIPA the evaluation and selection process facilitates making appropriate changes.

Instructional staff is charged with the responsibility for direct supervision of students while using the Internet. Without a technology protection measure in place, even the most diligent efforts make this a formidable task. The first line of defense provided by technology protection measures allows staff to focus attention on the teaching process while continuing to supervise students’ use of the Internet.

The use of a technology protection measure may provide a certain security for teachers who are not currently using the Internet in instruction for fear of the consequences of students accessing inappropriate content. Feedback from focus groups suggests that these teachers would use the Internet with the knowledge that safeguard measures were in place.

The dynamic nature of the Internet and ever changing content of web sites, however, requires continued vigilance in selection and use of web sites in instruction. No technology protection measure is 100 percent effective in preventing access to inappropriate sites. Best practices for effective use of the Internet in instruction continue to require previewing web sites prior to using them in the classroom.

A benchmark was conducted to understand how other school districts in the area are addressing the issue of Internet safety. A survey was sent to all Maryland school districts and Fairfax County, Virginia. Ten responses, including Fairfax County, were received with feedback confirming that all had a technology protection measure in operation in their district.

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Evaluation and Selection Process

MCPS has a process for evaluation and selection of instructional materials. This process has been expanded to include web sites used in instruction.

Professional staff identify and evaluate web sites using the Web Resource Evaluation form through the Database of Accountable Evaluations System.

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Summary

Implementing a technology protection measure provides a way to strengthen existing regulations governing the use of telecommunications and the evaluation and selection of instructional materials by applying criteria consistently, especially in regards to “instructional materials that support the curriculum and the goals of education on a county-wide basis.” See Regulation IIB-RA, Evaluation and Selection of Instructional Materials and Library Books (24K PDF).

This system also provides a form for modifying access to sites in the technology protection measure database.

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References

Borja, Rhea R. (January 16, 2002). Internet Filtering is Balancing Act for Many Schools, Education Week.

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