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Parent Assesses the Internet Filter of Wicomico County Public Schools and Fails

The Delmarva Parent Teacher Coalition has had some parents report that their child was found to be accessing inappropriate content during class, while using the school issued laptop computer. A parent who is an IT professional volunteered to test the Internet filter at Wicomico County Public Schools using a school issued laptop and the school's Wi-Fi in order to test the integrity of the web filter. The findings were surprising. Here is a short video demonstrating just a few examples of what could be accessed at the school while using their systems:


*WARNING: EXPLICIT MATERIAL. YOU MAY WANT YOUR KIDS TO EXIT THE ROOM*



Other very simple keywords were used. Results were returned that made it past the web filter when searching on Google and YouTube. Searches included sexually explicit material, including sex acts, sex stories, M-rated games, weapons, gang related activity, dating sites, suicide, and violence. Some of inappropriate content was blocked, but not enough. It was good to see that popular social media sites were blocked like Facebook and Instagram.


Federal and state laws exist in order to protect children on the Internet at libraries and schools, such as the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), FCC Chapter 91A, Maryland Education Article Section 23-506.1, Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act, and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). These regulations all require public schools and libraries to have an adequate Internet filter to protect minor children from accessing inappropriate, obscene, or harmful content. WCBOE acknowledges this in their Acceptable Use of Technology Policy ADM-TEC-PL-004.


Wicomico County Public Schools uses a web filter and management product called Netref by Linewize to monitor and manage Internet access in the classroom:



With this product, a teacher can make sure that students are working on their assignments and can monitor their web usage while in class. This product also has reporting features to show the statistics of who and how many try to access content in various categories, which some categories are not blocked. A teacher has the ability to see the screen of every student. The teacher is alerted by the Netref system if a student is looking at inappropriate content. What is concerning is that there should not be an alert if the filter is working to begin with.


There is also a second-line defense filter that WCPS uses called WebTitan:



Aside from the web filtering, we need to focus on why this would even happen in the first place. Some of these problems occur when a student is in a 90-minute class and 20-30 minutes of instruction, leaving much time after instruction to do what they want on the Internet in order to pass the time. The computers are often being used as pacifiers in many classes, which is a known issue from student and parent feedback.


The WCBOE has an Acceptable Use of Technology Policy ADM-TEC-PL-004, but it's simply a disclaimer that tries to place responsibility on the minor child. That's wishful thinking. The school system can't place a candy jar in front of a child and expect them to not go for it. Time limits, purpose, and block scheduling must be reevaluated by the school board. This includes reviewing classroom and school reports of the time students spend on the Internet and on what content.


In addition, the FCC E-Rate program makes telecommunications and information services more affordable for schools and libraries. With funding from the Universal Service Fund (fcc.gov/general/universal-service-fund), E-Rate provides discounts for telecommunications, Internet access, and internal connections to eligible schools and libraries. This could jeopardize the E-Rate discounts, if they are non-compliant with these regulations.


The bottom line: The school system spends thousands of taxpayer dollars on annual licensing for these web filters and they are not working as we would expect. Either these filters are failing to do their job or certain content is being allowed by administrators. Either way, this must be addressed and fixed, because WCPS is currently not in regulatory compliance as the filter(s) are not doing what they are designed to do.


Since Wicomico County has a newly elected board, we remain optimistic that they will make sure that the school system is compliant, computers are strictly used for educational purposes, and that our children will be kept safe on the Internet at school.


WCBOE Board Members

Gene Malone - gmalone@wcboe.org

Allen Brown - abrown@wcboe.org

Kristin Hazel - khazel@wcboe.org

Bonnie Ennis - bennis@wcboe.org

Susan Beauchamp - sbeaucham@wcboe.org

David Plotts - dplotts@wcboe.org

John Palmer - jpalmer@wcboe.org


Fellows & Editors

January 10, 2023 Copyright DelmarvaPTC.org


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All copyright material in this article was presented under the Fair Use Act for the purpose of education school safety and regulatory compliance.

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