The Ottawa Sun
Friday, September 11, 1998

Schools should guard kids from online harm

by Rob Hall,

I received an e-mail from a distraught parent last week.

It seems that the new amalgamated Ottawa-Carleton District School Board sent home a permission slip they wanted signed by each parent prior to allowing the student to access or utilize the computers at the school.

In a nutshell, this document, titled Acceptable Use Policy, contained the criteria and rules that a student must abide by when accessing or using the schools computer system.

The document sent home is also labeled the abridged version. However after many calls by the parent to the school board, the board was unable to produce the full document. Staff did not seem to be aware of its location.

The parent finally reached John Kantik at the board who informed him that the full document did not contain any clarification of the abridged version but simply expanded on the what the Internet was for parents who were not techno savvy.

There are a few problems with the contents of the document. It makes statements such as "Do not intentionally ... experiment on the school's network."

Does this mean that students should not be encouraged to try new things?

Is that not how most kids learn?

There is also a section on harassment stating that the student may face "disciplinary actions or charges being laid".

While this may seem fine and most of us would agree, it defines harassment as the simply "annoyance of another user".

I am not sure I would want criminal charges laid against a 10-year-old because another kid was annoyed. Later the form details how there may by "no second chances" for violators.

And it is 10-year-olds we are talking about here. The child who brought this form home is in Grade 5.

Overall I think the form was worded way too strongly.

There are two key things missing from the form that I believe must be part of it.

The first is the premise of "intent". If a child were to accidentally delete something or annoy someone, should their intent not be taken into consideration? I have often found that when 10-year-olds use computers, things tend to go wrong.

This is not necessarily anyone's fault. They are just kids.

Granted that they must be taught to be responsible users of the Internet, but to suspend computer privileges for the year with no warning goes a little far in my mind.

The other key thing missing is any safeguards whatsoever. Mr. Kantik informed the parent that the schools were taking no steps to protect students from going somewhere they shouldn't.

It would be a fairly simple matter for the schools to install software that would prevent the kids from viewing pornography.

Many commercial packages exist that are aimed specifically at this task. While they are not foolproof, should the schools not utilize the best possible methods to at least attempt to protect the kids?

I don't think they should be held liable, but they should at least try.

Parents should look into exactly what their school is doing to protect their kids.

Get involved. Your kids need access to the Internet. It is a valuable resource tool for them. But you need to be aware of what your kids may be doing online.

Copyright © 1998 by The Ottawa Sun. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.