Education

West Richland parents say school computer porn filter not good enough

Member of the Richland School District Teaching, Learning & Cirriculum team issue Chromebooks to students at Leona Libby Middle School. The district handed out rougly 680 of the computers, chargers and cases for students to use instead of pencil and paper at the new school's orientation sessions.
Member of the Richland School District Teaching, Learning & Cirriculum team issue Chromebooks to students at Leona Libby Middle School. The district handed out rougly 680 of the computers, chargers and cases for students to use instead of pencil and paper at the new school's orientation sessions. Tri-City Herald

Lora and Colton Brady are serious about monitoring their children’s Internet use.

To access their home computer, the kids need to find a parent to unlock the computer, and then the Bradys keep an eye on what they are looking at through the glass door of their home office.

So when their 12-year-old son approached them with a picture of a scantily clad woman on his Richland School District Chromebook, they were concerned.

They discovered it was possible to use the Google image search on the laptop to find a bevy of women in various states of undress, and at least a few wearing no clothing at all.

For example, a search for Victoria’s Secret brought up objectionable images, but so did a search of the word “beautiful.”

“Then if you click on ‘view more,’ more and more just comes up,” she said. “They can jump from picture to picture to picture, and the deeper you go the worse it gets.”

Libby Middle School, where their son attends, is the first Tri-City school to provide each student with a laptop to take home. Two of the other Richland middle schools are expected to hand Chromebooks to their students before the end of the year.

The Bradys want the district to improve its filtering system.

“I was thinking maybe once or twice something might pop up on his Chromebook,” Lora Brady said. “We’re not talking about one or two things slipping through once in awhile.”

Mike Leseberg, the Richland School District’s executive director of information technology, said they are working on a solution that appears to avoid the problem by only allowing images that are in the public domain.

The district’s filtering system, ContentKeeper, isn’t able to filter images, he said. The system is the same one Kennewick and Pasco uses for filtering district systems.

Typically filters can block sites based on a few general criteria, either by web address, keywords or by category.

“Most filters do a great job on these,” Leseberg said in a report. “Where problems arise is with images, as filters have no way to interpret the content in an image.”

He used an image of a Victoria’s Secret model as an example. The web address contains no hint about what the image might contain.

The district cut off access to Yahoo’s image service because it was easier for students to reach objectionable material, but some access to the images is necessary for teachers to use in class, Leseberg said.

District officials also keep logs of search items that are used. The technology services department can then pull the information. While they have alerts on some terms, setting up alerts on every sexually related word would be difficult.

The Bradys also raised concerns about allowing students access to YouTube, saying the filter allows children to reach a video showing amateur pornography. They are asking for the district to cut off access to it except for teachers.

Leseberg explained the decision to allow the service came after elementary school teachers needed access to it so they could access material through Khan Academy. The organization provides online tools for students in the form of YouTube videos.

In the end, the district said they are asking parents to help them monitor how children use the computers. In a letter to parents, Principal Andre Hargunani pointed out that the filters provide more protection than a student might have on a cellphone.

And, he said, teachers monitor how students use Chromebooks while they are in class.

While students are at home, officials are asking parents to monitor how the child is using the equipment.

The district also teaches students about digital citizenship, Leseberg said. This program, normally run through the school libraries, allows students to learn about internet safety.

The Bradys say they’re already monitoring, but they want parents to be aware that the filtering system is flawed.

“We’ve had zero assurances that they are going to try to improve the filtering,” Lora Brady said. “We are sort of getting the feeling that it is what it is. ... And that’s not acceptable to me.”

Cameron Probert: 509-582-1402, @cameroncprobert

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