Online Safety

Internet Security: Why Protecting Students Is Complicated

To some, protecting students from those who may use social media or other internet-related tools to harm children is deceptively simple: limit access. However, those who work with students every day know it's not that easy. There have been some recent developments that could help administrators struggling with these issues.

From the point of view of many who are more comfortable in the political realm than the education establishment, protecting students from those who may use social media or other internet-related tools to harm children is a deceptively simple matter: Limit or eliminate access. However, those who work with students every day and the administrators who run public school districts know it's not always--in fact, maybe never--that easy.

A case in point is legislation passed late last year in Missouri that banned teachers from communicating via any "non-work-related internet site [e.g., Facebook] that allows exclusive access with a current or former student." In fairly short order, a judge ordered a temporary injunction due to First Amendment concerns. A new law was then passed compelling all Missouri school districts to implement their own policies regarding internet safety.

The pros and cons of all the issues involved in the Missouri situation are laid out in detail in the February/March issue of T.H.E. Journal. In an article titled "Online Safety in the Age of Facebook," writer Margo Pierce relays the concerns of teachers and administrators who understand a couple of things better than elected officials do. First, shielding students from harmful material will require more than a policy or process that deals only with technology (which, as T.H.E. Journal readers know, is in constant flux). Second, almost every day beneficial internet resources become a more significant component of education and simply cutting off access to them is out of the question.

The good news is there have been some developments that could help administrators struggling with these issues since the article in the current issue of the magazine was published. Earlier this month, the Consortium for School Networking released for wide distribution during its annual meeting a number of resources designed to help districts cope with the issue.

Among them is a Cyber Security Toolkit that includes a checklist administrators can use to determine their districts' current security status, tools to identify the strengths and weaknesses of whatever policies they currently have in place, and a template that can help them in determining goals that will lead to plans and policies that take into consideration all the significant factors that encompass this sensitive issue.

While a few of these resources are intended for CoSN members only, many of them are freely available to all educators--and members of the public, for that matter--and can be accessed at cosn.org.

About the Author

Michael Hart is the executive editor of THE Journal.

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