LEWISTON — Administrators are looking into a way to offer filtered YouTube access to students on school devices.

Superintendent Jake Langlais introduced the idea at a School Committee meeting Monday night.

“I believe the benefits outweigh the risks,” he said. “I think there is massive benefit to YouTube’s educational platform.”

The online video platform offers educational material that would greatly enrich remote instruction, he said. Teachers have full access, and students had it until a few years ago.

“The media that is added to YouTube on a daily basis is incredible,” Langlais wrote in a memo to the committee. “Much of the content is educationally purposeful.”

He noted that SAT prep courses are offered through YouTube and Lewiston Public Schools students could not access them.

However, some content is inappropriate and even disturbing, he said.

Filters likely would not catch all the inappropriate material, David Theriault, director of instructional technology for Lewiston Public Schools, said. He said about 500 hours of videos per minute are uploaded to the platform.

In a presentation to the School Committee, Theriault said he and his staff tested filtering systems.

“In our testing of Restricted Mode, videos with mature content were still readily available for student access,” he said.

He said “self-harm” videos and “other very inappropriate material” were available.

Another filtering system tested by IT staff was “extremely unrestricted,” he said.

He said federal funding for internet services could be at risk if the district was not in compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act.

That E-Rate funding is nearly $1 million a year, Chief Administrative Officer Bobbi Avery said.

Theriault said the district did not have to be in 100% compliance. “We have to make a good-faith effort. IT does not have time to monitor everything that comes through the filter.”

“We have numerous tech violations every single year in every school,” Langlais said. “The poison is already in the water.”

Committee member Kiernan Majerus-Collins pointed out that most, if not all, middle and high school students have unrestricted access to YouTube on their cellphones. It would be “patently absurd” to think otherwise, he said.

“If your concern is the danger of exposing kids to YouTube, I think that is a bit of a joke,” he said. “I find it hard to believe that schools around the country are not allowing students to use YouTube.”

But member Ron Potvin, a corrections officer at the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn, said “absolutely no way” would he support allowing student access to YouTube on district devices.

“In my 30 years in law enforcement, I’ve had my share of dealing with sexual predators,” he said. “They love the internet and they love YouTube. They will make those connections, and nothing is preventing it.”

Teachers told the committee they fully supported allowing students to use the platform for educational purposes.

Kira Sorumeito, a sixth-grade teacher at McMahon Elementary School, said when she was teaching a unit on teen activism, the educational material available to students was 10 years old.

The more relevant videos are on YouTube, she said.

She said she worked during the winter break on screening videos and connecting them to Google Classroom.

“It was hours upon hours upon hours of capturing and copying” to make 45 videos of 3 to 15 minutes each, she said. “There are not enough hours in the day to provide what students need.”

Allison Lytton, president of the Lewiston Education Association, said the teachers’ union has “for some time” been advocating for YouTube access for students.

“With remote learning, it is really a burden, 15-20 hours (per week) to get material that we are tasked with teaching,” she said.

“I ask you to be more open-minded. If you need more information, let’s gather that together and gather it quickly,” she said.

Langlais said he would move forward with research into whether other schools in Maine allow YouTube access for students on school devices and would work on getting written consent from parents.

The access could be restricted to high school students, he said.

“The conversation says let’s pursue this, but be mindful of the parameters,” he said.

The superintendent will bring the question back to the committee, which likely will vote on it.


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