Forum Friday – Whose Accountable?

Mar 2, 2007 by

Each Friday I post a discussion or resource from the forum to share with a wider audience. This week provides a rather interesting, and unfortunate, discussion about how the Internet brings not only wonder and learning into our classrooms, but also the potential for inappropriate and lewd content. Many schools do an admirable job of protecting students from pornographic and other inappropriate online content. However, providing students with a net-savvy educator capable of using the Internet safely in school can be a challenge when the regular teacher is out sick. Case in point; The New York Times reported in mid-February about a subtitute teacher that has been convicted of willing exposing children to pornography while checking her e-mail online. AndyAK, our resident Alaskan, brought up both the article and the debate behind this substitute teacher’s woes.

Read the full article HERE – Teacher Faces Jail Time Over Pornography on Class Computers

As a self-proclaimed hapless technophobe, she insists that the pornographic pop-ups found on her screen were not her doing and she had no way of stopping them (she was unwilling to turn off the computer for fear of damaging it). School officials claim that she willing showed students the pornographic content, even after it was found that students had been surfing on some websites that might have contained the content while the teacher stepped out of the room to the bathroom. Here’s Andy’s first take of it, and the ensuing discussion:

AndyAK:
I just came across this….if it has been covered elsewhere on this forum, it was before my time. I’m just wondering if there is more to this than the article covers…..well heck, I guess there must be. But still, it is a startling thing. It hasn’t been in the papers out here, but I would think it is a bigger story back East.

Teacher Faces Jail Time Over Pornography on Class Computer

Essentially, a sub teacher had porn pop-ups on the screen of the desk computer……and is now convicted of risking child injury. Does anyone know more about this? I read it, and I feel there has to be more to it.

Personally, I feel that a large portion of accountability should always be placed on the person using the computer. In this case, yes students may have been on an appropriate site, and should be dealt with. However, I must admit that the substitute teacher probably wasn’t practicing best computer etiquette by stepping out of them room, leaving the kids and her logged on computer alone. And don’t give me any of the ole “the kids should have known.” Anyone that’s been in a classroom for more than a day knows there’s at least one student in the room that’s going to try and get away with whatever they can, especially if there’s no adult in the room.

Antilochus(me):
This is a real touchy subject, and I’m sort of on the fence with this. Sure, it’s highly likely that some sort of spyware/malware was operating on the computer, but why wouldn’t you just turn off the monitor as soon as you saw the pornography popping up. The computer probably shouldn’t have been on with the kids in the room and a substitute teacher stepping out of the room, but then again there isn’t enough talk about the students doing something they probably shouldn’t (don’t they deserve some blame).

But then I come back to her seemingly Luddite statements. If she didn’t even know how to turn off a computer (come on, power switches are pretty easy to find), then what is she doing even thinking about touching the school’s computer. I’ve subbed in schools where substitutes aren’t even allowed to touch school machines, let alone check their own personal e-mail on them.

No, I don’t think she deserves time in prison, but she definitely should have treated the situation a little better (adolescents with an unguarded computer and a substitute teacher don’t mix).

Rick, a computer tech, then chimed in with an example of what staff would be expected to do in his school should pop ups of a pornographic nature appear on a computer screen. Interesting enough, staff at his school would be expected to leave the computer on, so that Rick could see exactly what was going on and hopefully fix it.

rick:
However, was this “problem” reported to the person(s) in charge when it was observed? Should such happen within my school folks would be expected to leave the computer on, run to the administrator’s office and have me called in to check it out. (It is also called CYA as there is nothing worse than a routine check turning up a history of porn sites under your username.)
Sad to say, both here in VT and elsewhere, certified staff have been caught with porn downloads in their files.

What it boils down to is how accountable are teachers when it comes to accidentally showing inappropriate online materials to students. Unfortunately, there are educators out there who intentionally do harm to themselves and students by looking at illicit material online while at school. Those educators should be dealt with in the manner that this substitute teacher is. But what about all of the accidents, the slip-ups, and the non-tech savvy teachers that run across pop-ups, spyware, and malware. Should schools ban all substitute teachers from using the school computers, potentially limiting students’ learning experiences? Or should every staff member, student, and substitute be held accountable for every tiny infraction whether intentional or not? Obviously those two extremes are not practical for effective education, so where is the middle ground in this situation?

Join the discussion on the forum or leave a comment if you have thoughts.

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3 Comments

  1. No where in these discussions did I see any mention of a blocked, filtered network system. Without that safeguard, we are ALL at risk.

  2. AndyAK

    In fact, there was some blocking software provided by the District, but it had expired and not been updated. Procedural issues, like a mis-addressed check, etc.

    I think we all have to look at layers of protection that have specific functions, but also overlap each other, and a plan for what to do when things go wrong. Things will ALWAYS go wrong, and there should be a plan. A firedrill, which all of of us understand the value of, is nothing more than a Plan F that is put in place when Plans A, B, C, D, and E have clearly failed.

    The culture in elementary of teachers doing exactly what they’re told (much like they ARE the children rather than professionals teaching children) has been highlighted here by some unrelated issues from the schools, but that plays a part here as well. It has to be OK to use your judgement, or we’re all in bad trouble.

  3. AndyAK

    I did some more searching this morning and found what I think is a more balanced article, as well as links to the entire transcript. Recall that a jury felt it was reasonable to convict her, although as often happens, the jury doesn’t get all the information.
    The aspect that “did her in” has more to do with her not taking any action…..apparantly no action at all, including leaving the room at lunch and talking to other teachers while the room was left open, and continuing to sit at the computer all day long, accomplishing some other things, while the class worked.

    So it all comes out as a mixed bag. There are any number of steps she might have taken at any time that would have made this a non-event, but to at least some of the kids in the room, she seemed to be actively using the computer. At the end of the day, she left the computer on without letting anyone know of the “problems” she had through the day.

    So at the end of the day, it just kind of looks like a mess. A school that did not have good equipment or up to date OS, poor filters, and a sub that seemingly felt paid to mostly sit with the kids while the teacher was gone. Not much of a cause for anybody to rally behind, I think. If there is a single problem here that truly needs to be fixed, it is that schools need good subs, and they need to be checked in on.

    Inaction sank Amero; read the full trial transcript

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