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How does school district monitor Internet use of students, teachers?

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By Meaghan Downs

You sign your name in blood on the Internet.
Not literally, because that’d be gross and virtually impossible.
But no other metaphor, in my opinion, gives the right weight of gravitas when it comes to discussing the permanent nature of representing yourself on the Internet.
It’s an unconscious blood oath that you sign with the entire online world, that everyone you write and post will exist for infinity.
To me, that’s more frightening thought than being terrorized out of my ever living mind at the haunted house fundraiser at Eagle Lake. And I’m really, really scared of haunted houses.
Some perspective: I cried and hid my face in my grandfather’s lap the entire time I went on the haunted house ride at Disney World. I was scarred. I was probably 7 years old.
I actually believe most teenagers who use social media have nothing to be frightened of; they are often more savvy than adults when it comes to conducting themselves on the Internet, for better and for worse.
But today’s column isn’t a pedantic Miss Manners sermon on social media etiquette.
It’s a question about storage.
Specifically, how the school district keeps track of what websites students visit during the school day, even while using their personal devices outside of class.  
Curious about this, I asked Chief Technology Officer Bret Foster about how the school system monitors the Internet activities of its more than 3,000 students.
State regulations, Foster said, require districts to have a filtering system (to block the obvious non-educational spam sites) and a proxy server that tracks and monitors student use.
In other words, every time a student or even a staff member signs in to the school system’s Wi-Fi and hops onto the Internet, they will leave a digital trail of what website they used and at what time.
That includes the student’s digital username “signature,” but only if the student has logged into the school’s network, Foster said.
The student data sit on a local server and after a certain amount of time (Foster said he’s not sure how long), this trail of online usage is purged from the system, not unlike clearing your browser history.
Only Foster and network administrator Rusty Sexton have access to this data, Foster said. Sexton can generate a report for Foster, but only Foster can look at the information, Foster said.
No monthly reports are drawn up of student information, he said. The school system does not have the ability to track social media passwords.
To my knowledge, no administrators or teachers require students to disclose their social media usernames and passwords.
The only time he looks at the information is if a building administrator has a concern about usage.
In the last year, Foster said, he estimates he’s looked at student Internet use data a total of twice. And both times, the student did not act inappropriately.
Foster said the Children’s Internet Protection Act requires every student in the Anderson County school system to take some sort of “digital citizenship” program course, session or tutorial, which has to be completed by the end of October, before they’re able to sign into the network.
“They are getting some skill sets taught to them, how to make good decisions about any form of technology,” Foster said.
Each school is responsible for coming up with their own “digital citizenship” program and by all appearances, it looks like most Anderson County students are on board.

A head’s up for Halloween: we’ll be asking to see your Halloween photos in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for reminders on how and when to submit pictures of your trick-or-treaters.  

News Editor Meaghan Downs can be reached via e-mail at mdowns@theandersonnews.com.