Filtered out? Parents, school district address Chromebook content
RICHLAND, Wash. – The Richland School District has a new program at a few schools that allows each child to have a personal laptop of their own to use at school and at home. The district uses a network filter to block inappropriate sites, but some parents have concerns with the filter's inability to fully block nude pictures.
Action News met with some parents and the district to find out how it works and what parents need to know.
"In orientation were told that no matter where kids accessed Wi-Fi it would go through their filter and the kids would be safe," said Lora Brady, a parent of a 6th grader at Leona Libby Middle School.
"But there was no real explanations of how it worked, what we could do to filter, or what the filters were," Holli Martell, another parent added.
Several parents at Leona Libby Middle School said they feel left in the dark when it comes to how exactly the filters do and don't work on kids their district-issued laptops.
Colton Brady's son is in 6th grade and he said it was frustrating to find out from his child that some nude images couldn't be filtered.
"And then to discover that there's so many holes and of course no filter is perfect, but to be able then to grab his laptop and within five to 10 seconds be able to have nudity on the screen was just too much," Mr. Brady said.
Brady said he's concerned other parents don’t know, and they wish they knew the shortcomings of the filter sooner so they could have implemented different rules at home.
Mike Leseberg, executive director of information technology, said communication could have been better.
"Obviously, we could have done a better job of that up front, letting them know what the expectations were,” Leseberg said. “I just think that nobody knew what the impacts of the filtering would be, especially this soon and this right out of the gate."
However, Leseberg said the district's filter is easily able to block inappropriate websites, keywords and categories. But he stressed that no filter is able to determine what an inappropriate image is.
"A filter cannot determine what’s nude and what’s not nude, what has clothes and what doesn't have clothes—so that's where the challenge runs in," Leseberg said.
He explained that innocent words like ‘cars’ or ‘beautiful,’ unfortunately, may bring up scantily dressed, or nude women.
"We're trying to be less restrictive with our filtering policies so that we don’t block the appropriate content for our students and staff," Leseberg said.
RSD has specifically blocked images from Yahoo for their offensive content.
Plus, the district expects to receive an update to the filtering program from Content Keeper, which they will review on Tuesday.
"We have found that they are making some enhancements to their filtering capabilities, specifically trying to deal with the image searches and the embedded code within the URL themselves," Leseberg said.
The IT department doesn’t have the specifics on the outcomes until the role it out this week.
Plus, the IT staff is working to put together a Frequently Asked Questions page about network filters to help educate parents this week.
Overall, parents are asking for improvements in procedures.
"We'd like to see the filter improved so that nudity isn't so accessible," Mrs. Brady said.
"I believe the school district needs to get really honest and real with the parents,” said Lisa Nelson, a fellow parent at Leona Libby. “And no one is going to go around panicking and flailing their arms we're all adults and we're all going to work through this."
“I'd like us to be educated first, let's not just throw Chromebooks out, Martell said. “It is great and it is awesome that our kids have this opportunity, but I think that we all need to be educated. I think they need to have rules in place of how it’s going to work."
Parents said their kids are growing up to be more tech savvy then they are – and they'd like guidance.
"I know schools in Arizona that were struggling with this same issue had ‘Tech Days’ where parents can come in and they can learn the ins-and-outs of these laptops and what’s going on with the filters. That way they can get educated on it before their kid brings it home," Mrs. Brady said.
The district and the parents agree that online safety is paramount for their kids. As the district works to develop updates in filters – both teachers and parents must continue closely monitoring kids’ usage at school and at home.
CHECK YOUR CHILD’S BROWSING HISTORY ON CHROMEBOOKS:
Open the browser ? Press CTRL + H ? You will see your child’s browsing history with time stamps.
Browsing history cannot be deleted. The district also keeps logs of student’s history.
CHECK TO SEE IF THE FILTER IS TURNED ON:
Open the browser ? There is an orange circle on the upper right hand corner of the screen with a green box that should say “On.”
For more information about online safety at home and at school, you can visit protectyoungminds.org.