Mom says Wake schools not doing enough to control Internet porn, violence

khui@newsobserver.comFebruary 20, 2013 

Carolyn Homan shown in a video she produced about student access to graphic web sites.

YOUTUBE.COM

  • Find out more • The Wake County school system’s Parent Academy will hold free classes March 12-14 on Internet safety. Go to tinyurl.com/bck2257 for more information, including how to register. • Carolyn Homan has created the “Internet Safety in Wake County Schools” Facebook group. Go to tinyurl.com/a885opb for more information.

A North Raleigh mother of three says Wake County schools aren’t doing enough to restrict pornographic and violent content on school computers.

So this week, Carolyn Homan took her 1 1/2-year fight straight to the school board, showing members a YouTube video she made that highlights sexually explicit and violent material she said she found while using the computers at Brassfield Elementary School, where her three children attend.

“Kindergarten computers have access to porn,” Homan said at Tuesday’s board meeting, as she held up photos of graphic images she said came from Brassfield’s computers. “Filters filter out only a few sites such as Playboy, leaving billions of explicit videos and sites.”

Homan’s unconventional approach caught the attention of school board members, who asked system administrators to look into the issues she raised.

“If you look hard enough, you can find (inappropriate material),” said school board chairman Keith Sutton. “That’s what she did.”

Board member John Tedesco said that during a break in the meeting, he, other board members and administrators looked up some of the sites Homan mentioned on Tedesco’s school district-issued iPad, using the district’s network.

“If it’s as she said, it shouldn’t be that easy for our children to run across that material on school computers,” Tedesco said.

But Vass Johnson, Wake’s senior director of networking, said Wednesday that Tedesco may have been using a cellular network to access the sites, which wouldn’t be covered by the school district’s Internet filters.

Johnson and other school administrators say it’s not easy to determine how much Internet access students need for their work while also trying to limit inappropriate sites.

“We need to find a balance between providing sufficient and appropriate access,” said Cathy Moore, deputy superintendent for school performance.

Wake has had Internet filters blocking access to inappropriate sites even before it was mandated by federal law several years ago, Johnson said. He added that Wake uses a countywide database, updated weekly, that lists thousands of prohibited sites and search terms.

Even with the technology, Johnson said, the school system relies on teachers to provide Internet supervision.

“There are no filtering programs that are 100 percent effective,” Johnson said. “Ours does a good job. But nothing compares to a class being monitored by a classroom teacher.”

A campaign begins

But Homan said these measures aren’t enough. She said she was shocked in November 2011 when her children told her they weren’t being limited to pre-selected websites on school computers. So she went to Brassfield and surfed on computers in the library herself to see what she could find.

Homan told school board members that with a quick search, she found material such as “hot stripper porn dancing,” “hot stripper pole dancing” and “full anime porn movie,” which she said portrayed elementary school children raping a babysitter.

That launched her campaign to make Wake school computers safer.

Homan praised Elizabeth MacWilliams, Brassfield’s principal, for emphasizing Internet safety at the school. But the mother said she has been less satisfied with school district officials, whom she has met with several times since late 2011. She said she doesn’t think they’ve been responsive to her suggestions for changes to Internet access.

Homan proposes that individual schools set up dual-access systems, in which students would be limited in what they could search, but teachers would have unlimited access. If students need more access, Homan said, the teacher could provide it on a supervised basis.

And if that can’t be done, Homan suggests setting up a districtwide system of limited access to pre-selected sites. She said she also would want search engines such as Google and navigation bars disabled.

Johnson said school officials are not sure Homan’s options would work in a district the size of Wake, whose 150,000 students make it the largest in the state.

Other parents, activists

Homan has enlisted parents, technical experts, counselors, psychologists and local activists in her campaign. In addition to the 12-minute YouTube video, she’s launched a Facebook group to try to build public support for changing Wake’s Internet policies.

“Inappropriate and premature introduction to sexual behavior and sexuality, often in very derogatory ways towards women in particular, is often readily available on the Internet to kids,” says James Byassee, a clinical psychologist in Durham, in the YouTube video. “I think all parents need to be vigilant about that with their own computers in their own homes, and certainly schools, too.”

The video also includes Steve Noble, a local conservative activist and Christian radio talk show host.

“As a parent of four children, when you find the local school system isn’t doing everything it can in its power to protect them from Internet pornography, be it hard pornography or soft pornography, you have to step in and do something,” Noble says in the video.

Homan made her presentation Tuesday in front of a room that included dozens of students who were there to either receive awards or to put on a musical performance.

Even thought her material was not visible to the crowd, the situation wasn’t lost on her.

“It was unfortunate, and I am deeply grieved that this school Internet information needed to be relayed with children present,” she said. “But I felt I had no choice because this public school board meeting was the only appeals venue available after having been previously denied adequate school Internet safety by Wake County in private meetings.”

Hui: 919-829-4534

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