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updated: 6/25/2014 12:26 PM

District 41 moving to increase Internet safety

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By Safiya Merchant
smerchant@dailyherald.com

Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41 is buying a new Internet filter to better prevent students from accessing inappropriate content -- including pornography -- while at school.

The school board Monday agreed to spend $33,000 to buy the necessary hardware and software along with three years of licensing and support for a Smoothwall content filter.

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The decision comes after officials discovered earlier this year that two fifth-graders and a fourth-grader viewed pornography on a mobile device at Forest Glen School.

Two of the students also accessed an inappropriate website on a classroom computer, officials said.

The administration considered five providers for the filter before making its recommendation to the school board. One priority, Director of Technology Mike Wood said, was finding a more advanced method of detecting objectionable content.

Wood said officials looked at filters that do "content awareness," meaning solutions where algorithms run against pages to look for objectionable content and "the context with which that content is used."

"So in some cases, if you went to CNN.com, that page may come up, but if there was something deeper within that site that the filter deems inappropriate, it would be blocked so they would not be able to get to that," Wood said. "Particularly with things like blogs or forums, where on their surface they may seem fine and they may not be blocked, but the deeper you go into that page or to that site, the more likely you might be to find something that you wouldn't want kids to see."

Wood said officials also were looking for a system that would send daily reports about Internet access history to the technology department as well as building principals.

Smoothwall addresses all those issues, he said, and the vendor also gave the district the option to get a full refund by Dec. 31 if it is not satisfied with the product.

"If we find this solution is not cutting it for us, we can still go back and we can still get our money back and we can still go to another solution," Wood said.

The vendor also provided a separate opt-out clause that will start June 2015.

Besides the new content filter, the district will conduct a network security audit this summer.

The district has a policy regarding cellphone use, where students are allowed to bring phones to school, but unless there's an emergency, they must keep them turned off and "out of sight" during the school day.

Wood said the language in the policy needs to be broadened to incorporate more devices. The policy also needs further review by the district's policy committee.

In addition, the district is taking other steps to address Internet safety, according to an email sent to parents by Superintendent Paul Gordon.

It already has identified dashboard software that will be used by teachers at Hadley Junior High School starting this fall so they can watch their students' online activity.

Administrators also have met with principals to discuss the district's Internet safety practices.

Gordon's email also indicated the district plans to have an Internet safety fair in the fall.

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