When it comes to her daughter’s access to technology, Sarah is very strict: no phone, no social media, no personal computer. The family computer is connected to the TV in the middle of the living room and – no surprise – is locked down with parental controls.
“I don’t want her to have unauthorized access to the Internet,” Sarah said, who didn’t want KATU to reveal her last name or her daughter’s name.
So when Sarah’s daughter received an iPad last year as part of Neil Armstrong Middle School’s pilot program, Sarah was quick to confiscate the iPad the moment her daughter was done with her homework at the end of the day.
“The only time she had her iPad was at school or on the bus,” Sarah said.
But in no time at all, KATU’s investigation found, students found work-arounds to the school iPad security system.
Sarah said her daughter was one of the students who visited a site she wasn’t supposed to — called Wattpad. It’s an online writing community where people share stories. It’s popular in some young adult circles. Sarah said the site itself isn’t bad except she said her daughter was accessing the adults-only section.
“She was reading erotica – along with a lot of the other kids,” Sarah said.
Sarah said she made the discovery checking the iPad’s browser history.
“I was shocked!” Sarah said. “It was not something you expect a 12-year-old to look at, or to talk about, or to want to do or anything. She’s still a little girl.”
Sarah said she grounded her daughter and brought the breach information to the school’s attention. Sarah said the principal assured her the technology team would make sure to ban the website.
But one month later, Sarah said she made another shocking iPad discovery.
“I found out she had an email account and was sending pictures of herself and having relations online,” Sarah said.
Sarah says her daughter used the iPad to set up a personal Gmail account and send the racy pictures to another student.
“Enough was enough,” Sarah said.
Sarah took away her daughter’s iPad and forced her daughter to go “electronics-free” for the rest of the school year – about seven months. Sarah said that presented its own array of difficulties in a classroom environment where the iPad was used for virtually all learning.
She said she alerted the district again.
“I think it was a mess,” Sarah said. “I think it was a complete and total mess. I think (the school) could have found other ways to handle this.”
The On Your Side Investigators contacted the principal, Brandon Hundley, but he did not respond with any specifics about Sarah’s situation. Hundley said he was in training and unavailable for an on-camera interview, so he emailed the following statement:
There is no way to ensure absolute security on a technology device. As we develop our program as others schools are doing the same, we will continue to focus on teaching and training our students in the appropriate ways to use technology to support their learning, keep themselves safe and leave as small and limited a digital footprint as possible.
Relative to parent concerns, we take them very seriously and have acted on each as soon as reported.
We absolutely limit the access students have and continually add websites to our blocked list as we find those that are not supportive of our educational mission. While the idea that we limit students to a set number of sites is attractive and sounds like it would solve all these problems, the truth is that students are constant problem solvers and work hard to access what they are interested in.
Our message to parents is clear: help us help your students make good choices. Help us set limits for them and hold them accountable to those limits. We are very excited about our 1:1 program and believe that our approach is the right one. When we have issues or identify problems that a child is dealing with, we work together to find an appropriate resolution – as schools have always done when their (sic) are facing new content, curriculum or technology.