Education

Are kids using their phones to bring porn to school? Some Wake parents are worried.

Dozens of Wake County schools have the Bring Your Own Device policy in which students are allowed to bring smartphones and tablets.
Dozens of Wake County schools have the Bring Your Own Device policy in which students are allowed to bring smartphones and tablets. 2014 N&O file photo

Citing fears about pornography, some parents want the Wake County school system to stop allowing students to bring their internet-enabled devices to school.

Sonya Detwiler and Meredith Campbell, both of Raleigh, told the school board Tuesday that the district's Bring Your Own Device policy, adopted in 2015, exposes children to pornography and other harmful material. The two moms, who have started a parents' group called Kids Before Screens, say safeguards in the policy are ineffective.

"Parents are told that all Wake County schools have CIFA-compliant networks that prevent our children from accessing harmful internet content during school," Detwiler said, referring to the federal Children's Internet Protection Act.

But students with cellular data plans on their phones or tablets can evade the access restrictions built into their school's Wi-Fi network, and school buses don't offer safeguards, Detwiler said. "I have firsthand knowledge that our children are viewing or being exposed to online pornography and other harmful content of the most grotesque kind on the school bus with these devices, and there is nothing to prevent it," she said.

"I no longer allow my son to ride the school bus," Detwiler added. "It is unsafe."

The school system expanded the BYOD policy to dozens of elementary, middle and high schools after piloting it on 13 campuses. The program has garnered generally favorable reviews from teachers, who say it has led to greater student engagement in learning and more collaboration among students.

"The BYOD program is designed to allow students to use technology as a pathway for collaboration, critical thinking, communication and creativity," said schools spokeswoman Lisa Luten.

The policy, she said, holds both the schools and students accountable. "Each school puts in place policies to ensure students are using the devices in a safe manner," Luten said. "We communicate these policies and expectations with students and parents."

Parents and students must sign a consent form, and school administrators have the right to collect and examine any device if the situation warrants. Teachers can check screens for compliance with the rules, and students who don't follow the rules can have their BYOD privileges revoked.

And the schools don't force anyone to bring or use a personal device, Luten said. "We provide parents with the right to opt out of the program," she said.

But the rules aren't thwarting reality, Detwiler said. "If the schools cannot enforce CIFA as part of their bring their own device policy, then schools have no business encouraging kids to bring their own device," she said.

Both Detwiler and Campbell worry especially about pornography.

"The internet has provided our children with unlimited access to pornography, and it's a drug as addictive as heroin," said Campbell, a mother of five. "We cannot be naive about this."

"The effects of porn addiction are more far-reaching that some of use want to believe," she added. "It ravages relationships, breaks up families and leads to illicit, illegal behavior. It breeds narcissism. It drives the human-trafficking industry. It objectifies human beings, especially women and children."

"In the past decade," Detwiler noted, "the fastest-growing population of online porn addicts are boys age 12 to 18, and the girls dating these boys are impacted too."

The two moms also expressed misgivings about connected devices in general.

"The Bring Your Own Device policy also encourages online addiction because most devices receive constant notifications from apps, social media and instant messaging, causing students distraction from learning, anxiety and the compulsive need to check the device throughout the day," she said.

Campbell added: "Much of what they are ingesting is worthless — mind-numbing scrolling through social media sites, playing games, endless YouTube videos. And much of what they're exposed to is worse than that. It's online gambling, bullying, hatred and violence."

Detwiler and Campbell asked the board to end BYOD. Short of that, "students should be required to keep their devices in their backpack while they're on campus, no phones out at lunch, between classes and certainly not in class," Campbell said.

If that happens, "I predict better grades, less bullying and happier, more respectful students in our schools," she added.

Scott Bolejack: 919-829-4629, @ScottBolejack
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