School Board takes on students' Internet rights

Hastings concerned with gay and lesbian 'perversions' that students can access on high school computers

By JOSH NICHOLS
Daily Press writer
The federal government has already sent a message that it believes students should use the Internet for educational purposes, not to view pornography and other distasteful images.
At Monday night's board of education meeting, the consensus was that students should be limited on what they can access on the Internet. The question was how much they should be limited.
Since the beginning of the school year, new software has been used in computers throughout the Moffat County School District to filter what information children can access on the Internet.
The new software follows on the tail of the Children's Internet Protection Act, which was signed into law on Dec. 21 of last year.
The act put limitations on federal funding if schools did not certify that they were filtering or blocking material that is obscene to minors.
Board members approved several changes in the school system's Internet use policy without debate Monday night.
But, several concerns were raised in regard to a chart showing what information is blocked at the different grade levels.
The chart that outlined what information areas could be blocked by the software, and broke down what areas were being blocked by each of the four grade levels, was distributed to board members.
For example, adult material involving sex and nudity is blocked at all grade levels as well as sites containing gambling, hacking technology, racism/hate and weapons.
The original decision on what was to be blocked was based on polling and conversations with staffs at all grade levels.
Two categories, sex education and gay and lesbian life-styles were blocked at the elementary, intermediate and middle school grade levels, but not the high school level.
This concerned several board members.
Board member Phil Hastings was the first to ask, "Why are we not blocking gay and lesbian interest?"
Board member Jerry Magas followed closely on the heels of Hastings in opposing high school students' access to gay and lesbian material.
"Personally, I can't accept it," he said. "It's out there because we're saying it's OK. It's not OK."
Later he said, "This is questioning our whole moral ethics. Isn't this a democratic society? It if is then why do we allow these perversions?"
Bergmann said the reason the decision was made to not block those sites was the high school staff believed there might be times when those sites might be used for research purposes.
He also urged members that he did not think it was the right time to get into a debate on moral ethics.
"I don't want to get into individual opinions on specific issues," he said. "We can't have a debate on all these issues because we all come from a different moral standpoint."
Joan Baxter, a high school social studies instructor, urged board members not to make rash decisions in regard to what information students have access to because it is an issue of academic freedom.
"We are blocking educational opportunities sometimes also," she said. "It is something adolescents think about. I have a strong concern about how far we need to go to protect our children."
The decision was made by the board that sex education and gay and lesbian sites would also be blocked at the high school level to avoid students recreationally logging on to the sites.
If a teacher wants to use a sex education site or gay and lesbian site for educational purposes, he or she would first have to get approval from the school's administration to have the block lifted.
Moffat County High School principle Jane Krogman agreed that the approval system could be easily utilized in order for the district to be assured that students were not viewing inappropriate material.
"I would demand a teacher tell us how a site fits the curriculum of the course," she said.
Hastings was also concerned that the software was being considered as a fix all solution, and that obscene material can still slip through the cracks no matter how good the software.
"My concern is people will rely on software rather than monitoring," Hastings said.
Bergmann agreed that the software cannot be the sole means of monitoring students, and that teacher's must continue to monitor students' Internet use.
"We cannot become complacent and hope the software is doing the job," Bergmann said. "These kids can figure out anything. It's not foolproof."
But some software is better than no software.
"We have to realize that it is probably not foolproof, but it's probably 95 percent better," Bergmann said.
Proof of this comes from the fact that the new software also monitors how many times students try to log on to "blocked" sites.
Interim superintendent Pete Bergmann said between 30 and 150 attempts per day have been made to log onto adult sites since the software has been implemented.
"It makes me wonder where students were at on the Internet last year when we didn't have any blocking going on," Bergmann said.
Krogman said as long as teachers continue to closely monitor students, steps can be taken if they find students are still able to access inappropriate sites.
"If we come across material we find to be inappropriate we can call the company," Krogman said. "Teachers need to be up walking around and monitoring."

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