Safety and Security
of Students When Using Electronic Communications
(I) IN GENERAL.
-- In carrying out its responsibilities under subsection (h), each school
(A) adopt and implement an Internet safety policy that addresses--
(ii) the safety and security of minors when using electronic mail, chat rooms,
and other forms of direct electronic commerce .
A Sad Story
New Mexico has
a new virtual high school. Coursework for the virtual high school is dependent
upon e-mail, but at least one school district is using a filtering system
that blocks all e-mail. The kids type their messages and save them to disk,
and the teacher takes them home with her and posts from her home e-mail at
night. When a reply comes in, or another posting, she prints it out at home
and takes it back to students in school the next day. So the teacher is sending
the students' e-mail for them since they can't do it themselves. If a different
teacher were less willing to help them on her own time, these rural students
would be cut off from using virtual school courses. They expect that they
will also be unable to use the chat/discussion functions of the online courses
as well because chat is also blocked .
It is possible
to effectively address the safety and security of students without preventing
them from fully participating in valuable educational activities on the Internet.
Districts or schools that think they have solved the concerns by blocking access
are interfering with student education and exacerbating the concerns presented
by the digital divide. These districts or schools are also probably not effectively
addressing the education of their students in online safe communication skills.
Communication in Schools
The use of e-mail
and other forms of direct electronic communication for instructional purposes
is becoming increasingly important. Some districts have thought the costs of
providing the facilities for such communication cannot be justified. Attention
must be paid to purposes for which e-mail and other forms of direct electronic
communication are being used to support enriching educational activities. In
keeping with the educational purpose of the district's Internet system, excessive
amount of use for personal purposes should be discouraged.
There are three
primary forms of direct electronic communication that are being used in schools.
is by far the most prevalent form of direct electronic communication. Through
e-mail, students are engaging in conversations with students in other parts
of the country and the world. Students are able to take online distance education
classes. Students are also able to communicate with experts in subjects that
students are studying.
It is true that
in some districts, the use of e-mail has become just another means for students
to pass notes to each other. The degree to which this kind of communication
is considered acceptable varies from school to school and can be managed through
communication" Real time" communication environments, such as
Chat and Instant Messaging allow students to engage in real time communication
with other people who are online at the same time. Many online educational services
have established environments where students can engage in online chats with
authors, scientists, and others. Most online distance education classes make
use of "real time" communication environments.
There are also
a variety or moderated and unmoderated chat environments available on the Internet.
The unmoderated chat environments present the most concerns regarding the potential
of coming into contact with a predator. Most of the unmoderated chat environments
have little to no educational value. Districts can address concerns of such
environments by establishing a list of approved "real time" environments
or limiting such activity to approved class activities.
forms or conferences Online discussion forms or conferences are also used
to support distance educational classes, especially when students are participating
from different areas of the world. There are other online discussion forums
where students from around the world are engaging in ongoing discussions about
a wide range of issues of interest or concern to youth. These environments present
incredible opportunities for students to expand their understanding of our global
The online discussion
environments can be managed in the same manner as "real time" communication
In some districts,
where the district itself has not provided for e-mail, teachers and students
who require e-mail for educational activities have utilized the services of
commercial web-based e-mail providers, such as Hotmail or Yahoo mail. The use
of these systems by students present significant concerns. These services are
provided for free to the user, but the costs are supported by advertising. Lots
of advertising. The systems are developing market profiles of their users which
may contain both demographic information and interest information collected
when a user responds to an advertisement. Many people are using these web-based
e-mail systems to transmit pornography, invitations to engage in gambling, and
all other manner of unwanted solicitations. It is possible to register on these
systems as a minor, which may reduce the level of totally inappropriate traffic.
In sum, these services
are simply not the kinds of places that districts should be allowing students
to use. HOWEVER, districts should never simply dictate that all use of commercial
web-based e-mail systems should immediately terminate. Teachers and students
are using these services for valuable educational activities. Alternatives must
be put into place prior to any restrictions being placed on the use of these
simply do not the resources necessary to support a district-based e-mail system.
In such a case, there are reasonable alternatives that provide an excellent,
safe educational environment for students. In some cases, these educational
web-based e-mail services have been initiated as free services, supported by
more appropriate advertising. However, the advertising model is not stable and
most of these systems are transitioning to a subscription-based service. Fortunately,
the subscription costs are quire reasonable. Any district that cannot afford
to maintain its own e-mail system should consider such services as an alternative.
Why is There
Concern about the Safety and Security of Students?
The concern that
Congress wants districts to address is the concern of online sexual predators
and other potentially dangerous individuals who may communicate with students
through the Internet, including cult or hate group recruiters. It is also likely
that parents have concerns about the potential of such online predation.
all educators, parents, and decision-makers should be concerned about online
predation, it is very important to understand these risks in the context. Young
people who are "at risk" for online predation are "at risk,"
period. A recent study conducted by University of Pennsylvania's Center for
the Study of Youth Policy on sexual exploitation of children found that 47 percent
of sexual assaults on children were committed by relatives and 49 percent were
committed by acquaintances, such as a teacher, coach, neighbor. Only 4 percent
of sexual assaults were committed by strangers. No data was collected on the
percentage of sexual assaults committed by strangers who contacted the child
through the Internet, but this figure will necessarily be a percentage of the
4 percent . Further, this study revealed that a disproportionate number of the
street youth who had run away from home, and were thus being assaulted by strangers,
had histories of recurring physical and sexual abuse at home.
it is important for districts to address the concern of online sexual and other
predation, it is far more important that districts provide the leadership to
address the far more prevalent concern, which is the very real sexual and physical
abuse that is already occurring to students within their own homes and community.
The University of Pennsylvania report contains recommendations for an agenda
to address the very real concerns of the sexual exploitation of children in
the U.S. Addressing the action points recommended in this report are critically
important. Districts can provide the leadership within their community to do
It is also important
for educators to be aware that many teenagers have the online predation situation
pretty well under control. These teenagers can recognize predators for who they
are and quickly tell them to "get lost." Unfortunately, we have not
yet taken full advantage to "teen power" to address the concerns of
online predation. If more teenagers knew how to recognize, and preserve evidence,
and report cases of contact by a possible predator, the ability of legal authorities
to identify and prosecute these individuals would greatly increase. Teenagers
simply do not know how important this is. Schools can help educate them about
is highly likely that any student who is thinking about meeting with an individual
he or she has met online will share such plans with a friend. Students need
to understand the potential dangers and the importance of never meeting with
an online stranger outside of the presence of a parent or other adult. Students
need to understand the potential consequences to their friends under such circumstances
and recognize the need to either dissuade their friend from engaging in such
a meeting or, if unsuccessful, to tell an adult.
Students must learn
how to recognize signs of a predator, how to preserve and report evidence, the
importance of practicing safe skills, and the importance of watching out for
the well-being of their friends. It is critically important that students learn
and practice these skills in school. Districts that think they have solved the
problem of online sexual predation may not think it is important to teach these
important online safety skills.
must be aware that participating in online sex has become part of teen culture.
Since such activities involve self-stimulation, it is highly unlikely that students
will be engaging in online sex at school. The thought that young people are
engaging in online sex can be disconcerting to many adults. It is important
to place this concern into perspective. The activity almost always occurs within
the safety of the young person's bedroom. There is no chance of getting pregnant,
contracting a sexually transmitted disease, or being raped (although reportedly
"virtual rape" can occur). Additionally, just as young people talk
about sex and flirt with others in the "real world" they are doing
The reason it is
important for educators to know about youth involvement in online discussions
about sex, online flirtation, and online sex relates to the issue of perspective.
If educators portray all online activities related to sex as wrong and dangerous,
students may dismiss warnings about sexual predation.
as this issue is a "hot button issue" there is little guidance to
be found to assist young people in knowing where the boundaries are between
safe and unsafe behavior. Clearly, the prohibition against in-person meetings
outside of the presence of an adult is one boundary, but there are probably
also other important boundaries. In discussions with students about sexual predation,
it is perhaps most important that educators allow the students to take the lead
and explain to their peers their understandings of where the boundaries between
safe and unsafe behavior lie. It is likely that astute teenagers know more than
we do about these situations.
The most common
recommendation to young people regarding personal protection is not to disclose
their name and other contact information. Provisions against such disclosure
appear in most currently used Internet use policies. This prohibition, however,
may be unworkable in schools if adherence is rigidly required. How does a student
use the Internet to request a college catalogue, or send a resume for a possible
job or internship opportunity if the student cannot provide his/her name and
address? Clearly, there are some cases where disclosure of full name and contact
information should be considered to be perfectly acceptable. Such situations
are most likely to emerge in high school situations.
The following are
strategies that districts should consider implementing to address the safety
and security of their students when using electronic communication systems
- For elementary
students limit e-mail access to class accounts or systems where the teacher
has full and immediate access to all electronic communication. Allow secondary
students to have e-mail accounts to support educational activities. Establish
the accounts with usernames that will help to protect the student's actual
name. Do not simply use the student's last name. Most students will sign their
messages with their first name and would thereby reveal their full name.
- For all students,
limit the use of "real time" communication activities only under
the direct supervision of a teacher or in moderated environments that have
been established to support educational activities and have been approved
by the school. Students should be able to identify and access the approved
educational communication environments through the school's web site.
- Place strict
limits on the size and level of activity allowed through student e-mail accounts.
Students who have an educationally-justifiable reason for a greater amount
of e-mail use, such as students in school leadership positions, school newspaper
staff, etc. may petition for greater storage and use limits. Indicate to students
that excessive e-mail activity that has not been justified may create a reasonable
suspicion that the student is misusing his/her e-mail account for personal
- Do not allow
the use of the free, advertiser-supported commercial web-based e-mail services
through the district's Internet system. However, prior to putting this restriction
in place, ensure that other e-mail services are available.
- Include in the
policy several provisions addressing student safety, including communication
safety, personal privacy, protecting the privacy of others.
and middle students should not disclose their full name or any other personal
contact information for any purpose. High school students should not disclose
personal contact information, except to education institutions for educational
purposes, companies or other entities for career development purposes, or
with specific staff approval. Personal contact information includes the
student's full name together with other information that would allow an
individual to locate the student, such as parent's name, home address or
location, work address or location, or phone number.
should not disclose names or personal contact information about other students
under any circumstances.
should not agree to meet with someone they have met online without their
parent's approval and participation.
should promptly disclose to their teacher or other school employee any message
they receive that is inappropriate or makes them feel uncomfortable. Students
should not delete such messages until instructed to do so by a staff member.
- In the professional
development delivered to district staff around the safe and responsible use
of the Internet, ensure that teachers are aware of issues related to online
predation. Teachers must be attentive to the warning signs that students may
display if they have become involved with an online predator of any kind or
if they are involved in other forms of abuse.
- Address issues
of online predation in classes for students related to the safe and responsible
use of the Internet, as well as sex education classes. Students should be
well aware of the very real trauma that other young people have gotten themselves
into when they met with an online stranger. Students should also know the
signs of predation and when they might be at risk for becoming involved with
a predator. Stress the importance of saving and reporting evidence of such
interactions as a contribution to the well-being of other young people. Also
discuss and practice how students can intervene with their friends who may
be foolishly thinking of meeting with an online stranger.
- Provide leadership
within your community to address all forms of sexual and physical abuse.