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updated: 9/5/2014 6:23 AM

Dist. 158 parents worry kids can access porn on tablets

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  • A student uses the 'Aakash' tablet computer to search the Google Web page during a news conference in New Delhi, India, on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011. India plans to sell tablet computers operating on Google Inc.'s Android system for students for as low as 1,100 rupees ($22) as Asia's third-biggest economy aims to boost usage of computers. Photographer: Pankaj Nangia/Bloomberg

      A student uses the 'Aakash' tablet computer to search the Google Web page during a news conference in New Delhi, India, on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011. India plans to sell tablet computers operating on Google Inc.'s Android system for students for as low as 1,100 rupees ($22) as Asia's third-biggest economy aims to boost usage of computers. Photographer: Pankaj Nangia/Bloomberg

 
 

Parents came to the Huntley-Algonquin School District 158 board meeting Thursday to express frustration after their children were able to access pornographic images on school district-issued computer devices.

All students in grades kindergarten through seventh have been given either a tablet or laptop this school year as part of the district's 1:1 learning initiative.

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Jennifer Kinney, a parent of a second grader, said she discovered her daughter's tablet had access to pornography after it was brought to her attention last month by two other families that "there was some risk, and something going on with the Internet filter not working."

"I saw completely inappropriate, obscene images, and then some," Kinney told the school board.

When Kinney went to a tablet orientation night at her daughter's school, she did the same Internet searches she did at home and was still able to access pornography on the tablet.

"It was over a week ago when my concerns really became escalated," she said. "We are supporters of tablets, but we feel for us the current way it's set up is not appropriate."

Doug Watkins, who has grandchildren in the school district, said he owns and operates an Internet service provider and understands the problems the school district's IT department is having.

"But it's time to step it up and get them up to date," Watkins said. "There are a dozen ways to solve the problems you're having with the content that moves through the schools and is immediately accessible on children's computers. ... What due diligence did you do before selecting this vendor? It shouldn't take weeks, but days to solve this problem."

School board members did not respond to public comments as the issue was not on the agenda for discussion.

Superintendent John Burkey acknowledged after the meeting that about half dozen parents had complained about the filtering problem, which started surfacing several weeks ago.

"There have been sporadic problems of searches getting through," he said.

Officials said they made some short-term fixes over the weekend by disabling search engines and are working on a long-term solution that would involve changing the filtering process.

The tablet devices currently have a filtering function set up to block certain sites.

Earlier in the day, Burkey told ABC 7 Chicago the devices carry the Lightspeed Systems firewall -- typically more restrictive than parental controls on most home computers -- but acknowledged pornography can still get through.

"We're going to make it stronger," Burkey said. "We're probably going to do some filtering differentiated based on grade level ... provide different level of screening for different grade levels."

Burkey said some students may need to access the Internet for research, but added, each case can be handled individually, if a parent wants to have Internet access turned off on their child's device.

"We're not going to shut it all down so we cannot use it as an educational tool," he said. "I don't want to inhibit it for everybody."

Officials said parents also need to be educated about monitoring students' activity while using such devices.

"We really encourage parents ... you've got to supervise kids when they are on the Internet." said Burkey, adding that more and more students are getting exposed to things through smartphones at a younger age. "We're hoping to teach kids to be able to know what to look for before that."

District 158 Chief Academic Officer Erika Schlichter said the overall feedback from parents on the technology program has been positive. Currently, students in first through fifth grades have tablets, and kindergartners are expected to get them soon, while sixth and seventh graders have Google Chromebooks.

"There are some growing pains ... but it also is a very exciting learning initiative," she said.

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