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Jan 23, 2012 8:33 PM by Andy Koen

School district's iPad policy raises concerns of web safety

Manitou Springs School District 14 purchased 500 new Apple iPad 2 tablet computers for 5th through 8th grade students to use this school year. The internet allows homework to be assigned, completed and graded paperlessly. However, that connectivity also risks exposing students to harmful content on the web.

One parent, who asked to remain anonymous to protect his child's privacy, believes it is way too easy to bypass the districts web filters and access potentially harmful sites. He demonstrated for us how students could potentially piggyback onto unsecured wifi networks without ever leaving school property.

"It's the perfect set up to have a completely anonymous online presence that neither school officials nor parents nor law enforcement could ever really reconstruct," he said.

That parent and about two dozen others petitioned the Manitou Springs school board to implement a stronger internet safety policy.

D-14 uses web filters that are installed on their server but not on the iPads themselves. Technically students could access the web, unfiltered, while they are away from school.

In December, the school board updated their student internet use and electronic communication policy to require students abide by an honor system when using the tablets at home. Superintendent Ed Longfield also says parents can also learn how to install similar filters on their home wifi networks.

But Colorado Springs attorney Mark Hanchey says the district's policy doesn't comply with state law. The Colorado Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) specifies that protection measures should be implemented on "each computer operated by the school district that allows for access to the internet by a minor."

"Once the school district puts itself in the position where they are offering a service, they have to act reasonably," Hanchey said.

But Longfield says their policy was reviewed by the school district's attorney and attorneys from the Colorado Association of School Boards and they found it to be compliant with the CIPA laws.

He also says it's impossible to completely filter an iPad.

"You can have a filtered browser on the device itself, but you cannot install a software mechanism that filters it," Longfield said.

The Legacy Academy in Elizabeth, Colorado is part of the iSchool network and also uses the iPad 2 in school. Braydon Wardrop, the technology officer for Legacy disagrees with Longfield's assessment. He says their iPads and servers use a filter called iBoss which works both on and off campus.

The iSchool network also routinely disables the Safari web browser and any third party applications that would bypass the filter. Longfield and Manitou Springs Middle School Principal Chris Burr say disabling those third party applications would cause student to lose all of the homework they have completed this year.

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