Internet Safety Parent Letter


Great Neck Public Schools
Office Of Instructional Technology
345 Lakeville Road
Great Neck, New York 11020

Telephone: (516) 773-8388
tech.phipps@greatneck.k12.ny.us

Fax: (516) 773-8357
www.greatneck.k12.ny.us

 

Marc Epstein
District Technology Director

 

Dear Parent/Guardian:

The tragedy in Littleton several years ago prompted school districts throughout the country to take additional steps to secure their schools and provide for the physical safety of their students. In today's Information Age, we must also address the challenges presented by the virtual world that our children increasingly occupy. This letter explains how the Great Neck Public Schools provides a positive and productive online experience for its students and suggests some guidelines that can help parents manage Internet access at home.

The vast opportunities in cyberspace to access knowledge and collaborate with a global community outweigh many of the dangers that have been reported in the media. Despite the hype, these incidents are really quite rare. This is not to say that the Internet is an innocent and controlled environment. In fact, some information on the Internet is either illegal or inappropriate for children and the dynamic nature of the medium only compounds this problem. These areas of concern include pornographic material, depictions of violence, criminal activity, drug and alcohol use, gambling, profanity, advocacy of discrimination and the anonymity of one's true identity. What safeguards can be instituted to reasonably and effectively address these concerns?

In Great Neck, the Internet is an integral part of our curriculum but it has been implemented in a gradual and thoughtful manner. Although no system is perfect, the following precautions have helped us to minimize problems and focus on using the Internet as an educational resource:

  1. Policies - A Computer Network and Internet Acceptable Use Policy communicates our guidelines and expectations to students and parents about the acceptable use of our network and the Internet in school, and a policy on District Sponsored Internet Publishing established guidelines for publishing on the Web.
  2. Supervision - Information technology specialists are available in our computer centers and libraries to supervise student use of the Internet and provide appropriate instruction.
  3. Education - Evaluation and selection of web sites, judging the validity of online content and learning netiquette are all being incorporated into Internet lesson plans throughout the grades.
  4. Filtering - An Internet filtering system called Bess is employed district-wide to block inappropriate web sites while providing flexibility for teachers to customize the system if needed.

Despite our best intentions, inappropriate use of the Internet outside of school has become a cause for concern. Earlier in the year, anonymous students in three of our secondary schools posted hurtful and mean spirited messages about their school, their teachers and their fellow classmates to several Internet bashboards. More recently, a middle school student was suspended for attempting to sell bomb-making instructions in school that were downloaded from the Internet outside of school. These events highlight the need to establish clear guidelines for Internet use in the home. Here are some suggestions that may be helpful in this regard:

  1. Computer Placement - Put the computer in a central family room rather than in the child's bedroom to more easily monitor online activities.
  2. Adult Supervision - There is no substitute for parental oversight of the Internet. It is the most effective way to regulate access in the home. The Internet is a family activity, not a child activity.
  3. Safety Tips - Discuss safety rules and communicate your expectations about accessing objectionable online material from home or from a friend's house. Your child should know not to arrange meetings or give out personal information or photos to strangers via e-mail or chat rooms.
  4. Filtering Information - Use technology to help you block, monitor or otherwise control your child's access to inappropriate or illegal information on the Internet. These options include:
    • Proxy Server - Filters Internet access coming into your home but is maintained and updated by the provider. The system we use in the district, Bess, is a Proxy Web server and is available from several local Internet Providers.
    • Filtering Software - Allows you to block certain categories of web sites. Filtering capabilities are built into America Online software as well as other providers. You can also buy third party filtering software such as CyberPatrol, SurfWatch and NetNanny.
    • Monitoring Software - Records the sites your child visits while online. Web browsers also store this information in their history file. You can buy third party monitoring software such as CyberSnoop, WinWhatWhere and Historian to install on your computer.
    • Filtering by Ratings - Browsers can block sites based on an industry standard ratings system called PICS. The setup is usually located in your browser's pull-down menus.
    • To learn more about Internet safety, visit the following web sites:

I hope you find this information helpful. By working together we can safeguard our youngsters as well as guide them to take advantage of the enormous potential that the Internet has to offer. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions and thank you for your ongoing support of our Instructional Technology program.

Sincerely,

Marc Epstein
District Technology Director