FARMINGTON — Regional School Unit 9 technology technicians were close to developing a solution Tuesday to help parents — if they choose to do it — to filter student laptops when they are taken home, Technology Director Darcy Dunphy said.

The district allows students in grades seven through 12 to take laptops home to do schoolwork, but the district’s filtering system does not work there, Superintendent Tom Ward told the school board Tuesday night.

The district has spent more than $60,000 on filtering for the laptops but the students always find a way to go around them, Dunphy said. When the district’s filter system’s lifetime came to an end, it would have been very expensive to replace it, knowing students would find a way around it, she said.

District staff changed their focus to educating parents on Internet safety and appropriate use for their children. They also educate students.

RSU 9 held two digital citizenship workshops for parents last week at Mt. Blue high and middle schools. Twenty-seven parents attended, which was more than she expected, Dunphy said.

If it takes educating 27 parents at a time, that is what she will do, she said. She is open to suggestions.

Letters had been mailed out telling parents that educators need their help because the district’s filtering system does not extend to the home, Ward said.

Electronic notices were also sent.

A lot of parents had concerns about the lack of filters and keeping their children safe, he said.

“We have heard their concerns,” he said, and are trying to come up with a solution.

A written concern was also submitted to the Sun Journal about the state issuing student laptops without filters on them. The student laptops are issued through the Maine Learning Technology Initiative.

The Maine Department of Education leaves it up to each school district to add the filter, Anne Gabbianelli, director of communications for the department, said Tuesday prior to the meeting.

Mike Muir, director of initiative, crafted a statement after having been a technician lead himself in a school system and with the Maine Department of Education since early this year, she said.

The Learning Through Technology Team’s statement reads, in part, that the team does not install overall filtering software on devices for several reasons.

Among those reasons in the Take-Home Policy and Strategies, the team states, “There are many different views on ‘appropriate’ use of computers, and it is not possible to apply a filter on a statewide level that would meet every community’s and every parent’s wishes. Filters may be so lean as to prevent access to few websites, or so strong as to prevent access to websites that contain valuable information for student learning.

“Filters alone often do not prevent students from accessing inappropriate websites. Schools that have filtered devices outside of school found quickly that children find ways to get around the filtering. Children have access to computers other than (Maine Learning Technology Initiative) devices, so filtering (Maine Learning Technology Initiative) devices does not teach children how to safely and appropriately use computers and the Internet,” according to the statement.

The team is working to identify and update strategies to support an effective take-home policy, including improving communication with families about strategies and options for ensuring safe and appropriate use of student laptops, according to the statement.

Dunphy and Ward are working on a new letter that will be sent to parents and guardians to help them.

“Our goal is to keep reaching out to parents to keep the dialogue open,” Ward said.

A state trooper at one of the digital citizenship workshops said that monitoring and keeping students safe on the Internet is another layer of parenting, Dunphy said.

“As a responsible parent, we just need to learn more about it,” she said.

School Director Ryan Morgan of Farmington said he heard concerns from parents about lack of filtering last week while he was being prepped for knee surgery. The discussion was about “how do you make our children safe?” he said.

“It is very scary,” he said. “It really is.”

Some parents do not know about computers and “right now, their kids are teaching them,” Morgan said.

A survey done through adviser groups of the student body at the middle and high schools showed that 92 percent of students have Internet, she said.

Director Yvette Robinson of Farmington suggested a YouTube video be made that would give parents specific directions on how to implement parental controls on Internet use and that it be sent out when an electronic announcement is sent to them.

That way, they can watch it when they have time because it is so hard to come to meetings, she said.

“I think it is a great idea,” Dunphy said.

Ward agreed.

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Maine Department of Education’s Learning through Technology Team, which implements Maine Learning Technology Initiative, believes that the following strategies and policies help parents and schools ensure safe and appropriate use of computers:

“Every school administrative unit that participates in the MLTI program agrees to help educate parents and students about safe use of devices by (a) hosting annual parent meetings to orient parents to the MLTI program and its goals and expectations and (b) implementing in the schools Digital Citizenship and Internet Safety programs such as Common Sense Media.

In the classroom, schools use a multi-faceted approach that includes (a) basic filtering; (b) well-constructed policies and procedures; (c) quality instruction to students in appropriate use; and (d) adult supervision.

Here are some options for parents who would like to take an active role in their child’s appropriate use of technology:

Discuss safe and appropriate use of technology with your child. Resources are available at www.netsmartz.org/Parents.

Have the child use the device only in public, family spaces at home, rather than in private spaces such as their bedroom; Decide on the appropriate time of computer use by, e.g., having the child charge the device in the parent’s bedroom at night or determining a time at night when the child gives the computer to the parent until morning; Control the time of access to the Internet by unplugging the wireless router at night, or using the router’s ability to allow access based on time of day; implement parental controls. The school can help the parent create a second administrator account and demote the student’s account to a standard user account. Parental controls can then be implemented; and alk to the school about the possibility of internet proxying and when or where the computer can surf after school hours.”


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