Safety & Security are Non-Negotiable

Presented by:  Kurt Klement

Erin Hellmuth and I approached Dr. Turner in December about safety concerns with devices on the CISD network, specifically instances of kids at elementary, middle and the high school being exposed to pornographic material. I hope that we are all aware by now of the problem so I’ll refrain going through any sort of laundry list. Dr. Turner had the idea of creating the Parent Advisory Committee on Technology and we are thankful for the opportunity. It has been a wonderful experience. It has been a real pleasure to work with Brad Hunt. I can’t say enough good things about him.

One of the realities to keep in mind is that the group is made up of probably half educators or administrators in the district and the other half, parents. While we have grown in understanding in some ways, at times there is a philosophical divide that is very difficult to overcome in the short amount of time that we are able to meet.

The educators are filled with educational zeal and passionate about staying on the perceived cutting edge of educational reform. That can be a wonderful thing, but parents believe it needs to be tempered by the wisdom and prudence of parents and the larger community.

Case in point was a recent discussion about Twitter… I shared about known problems with Twitter, that there is one-click away access to harmful material such as pornography and that it cannot be filtered through normal url filters and there is no way to track the viewing history. I shared about examples that I continue to hear at the high school about problems with Twitter including the fact that it is an incredible distraction to a learning environment. In our last meeting I said “I can’t for the life of me understand what positive benefit outweighs the negative liabilities of Twitter.” Several of the educators responded with passion, giving examples of its uses and why they do believe the benefits outweigh the negatives. Herein lies a perfect example of the philosophical divide.

However, I shared with Brad and Erin that there are two basic steps that I think we can take that would be go a long way toward bridging the philosophical divide and addressing many of the safety concerns without affecting the educational value of the devices. These are steps that are used in most corporate settings and in other school districts such as LISD. These steps are used to protect users, to eliminate distractions, and to reduce liability. Binu is going to share in more detail from an IT perspective but I want to mention 2 things:

1. We must adopt a “whitelist” approach to managing apps. That means that rather than having an open network and trying to blacklist problem apps, AN IMPOSSIBLE TASK, that we begin with a completely secure network and allowing teachers to “whitelist” adding apps that are determined to have educational value, acknowledging it is an educational device not a life device in the same way businesses expect their employees to use company owned devices for work and not as life devices.

2. Second, we need off-network filtering so that the devices will be managed and protected even when they not at school. This would be a strong statement to families that the school recognizes that these are CISD owned and required and that you take full responsibility to do everything possible to make sure they are secure.

Once again from my understanding this is normal procedure in settings with concern for safety or liability.

The current situation is unacceptable. I know of many people who are very interested in this situation and we will not let up until CISD leadership takes the steps necessary to show that it takes seriously the task of protecting our kids. The decision was made to reconstruct all the entrances of schools throughout CISD because of a random gunman in Sandy Hook. Because when it comes to the safety of our kids… we’ll do whatever it takes. However, on this issue of protecting our kids from the much more pervasive threats such as with pornography and cyber bullying, that are much more of a threat than a random gunman, we get a steady stream of dismissive and naïve comments like:

We can’t help it if your child falls off the playground and breaks their arm” to dismiss that we can protect our kids from negative exposures on devices

Or in the case of an elementary child exposed to horrific pornographic short stories, a key CISD administrator said “It did say ‘adults only’ across the top of the website” as if it was the child’s fault because they didn’t make a better choice

We hear this all the time that the answer to all this is that we need “to better educate children to make good choices.” It’s like telling a person who struggles with their weight, their impulse to eat, to work in a chocolate cake factory with nothing preventing them from eating all they want and telling them “to make better choices with their diet.”

Or we hear comments like what was said last week by a trustee “that we all know that 95% of kids won’t use an iPad in an inappropriate way.” I don’t have the time to break down what is so very wrong with that statement. I’ll let the comment speak for itself

Of course another popular dismissive comment is “all of them have a smartphone anyway”, as if this removes the responsibility of the school district to take a protective stance with the devices it owns and requires.

The reality is that NOT EVERY student has a smartphone or already had a tablet. To just say this is a “2nd device” is short-sighted. Many do, however there is a difference between the choice I make with my child, and what is owned and required by the school district. There is a huge difference between a child having a phone and the majority of their educational experience being with a device. Not to mention I wish I had enough time to explain why parents are not able to utilize parent protections on the devices.

And can we please not have anyone speak about the IT costs of doing what is right? If we can afford to have “One to One,” then that needs to include being able to afford the proper management of these devices.

With all due respect, what are we doing here??? I feel like this is way beyond “educational zeal” but rather being intoxicated with educational zeal such that key leaders can’t see clearly. I have heard administrators and educators say time and time again that they share our concerns about safety. However, actions speak louder than words. We’ll believe it when we see results. I don’t want any of you to think that this issue is working itself out because we have a Parent Advisory Committee. The issue is a leadership issue that has created a very dangerous culture for our young people. The question is whether or not CISD will continue to take an approach that is apathetic and uninformed in regards to the safety of our kids, or whether or not, like the doors protecting entrances, whether we will take a protective stance… whether or not we will do whatever it takes.

My final appeal is that you trustees, as the leaders of our district, ensure we are taking a protective stance with the devices that are in the network. And I want to appeal that you temper the educational zeal with prudence and NOT move forward with One to One at the middle schools until we show we have the competence and the resolve to do it right at the high school. Thank you very much for your time.


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