Parent concerned about Huntsville City Schools laptop content filters

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Each Huntsville City Schools student is issued a laptop at the start of the year for the Digital 1:1 initiative.

But some parents say they occasionally find problems with the computer's ability to recognize and abide by content filters once the laptops leave campus.

Ben Gibbons, a father to two Huntsville City Schools students, said he noticed it again this week.

"I noticed that my younger son was pulling up Youtube, which is supposed to be blocked. And then I did some further investigating and found out you can pretty much pull up anything on his machine. And he' a fourth grader," he explained.

Gibbons provided us some images of what he is talking about. We will not post them because of the sensitive nature of the images, which appear to show that the computer was able to load ads containing suggestive photos and failed to filter out pornographic images from a Google search.

"Filters are supposed to work whether the computers are on campus or off campus. But a couple of times in this calendar year, within the last 5 months, the filtering has been inoperable for a week at a time," said Gibbons.

Keith Ward, school system spokesman, said there are multiple layers of security and filters on the computers when they are connected to school networks.

"There is a layer of filtering that is on the Huntsville City Schools network itself, and that would apply no matter what kind of device is logged onto that network. There is also filtering that is placed on those issued laptops," he said.

But Gibbons said he noticed the problem only when the laptops were off-site.

He wants to see more action to address the problem in a timely manner. He said he has called the school board members and IT for help.

"I'm just trying to protect my kids and I'm concerned about the kids across the city," he said. "These are powerful media devices and kids can get to a lot of stuff on them. It's the school system's job to make sure they are properly filtered so the kids are protected."

We spoke with a school board member who is looking into the situation. They recommended making sure the students ensure their computers download key updates during school hours when they connect to the school network, and then restarting them.

Gibbons said that has not worked when he encountered this problem in the past, but he is willing to try.

"I'd like to see policies and procedures in place to make sure these kinds of things don't happen in the future," he said.

According to last year's version of the student-parent information guide, the district's goal in providing internet access to students is to facilitate research, innovation, and communication.

It writes, "GENERAL WARNING: All users and their parents/guardians are advised that access to the electronic network may include the potential for access to materials inappropriate for school aged students. Each user must take responsibility for his or her use of the computer network and internet and stay away from these sites."

Ward added, "We are very interested in protecting the kids. That's why we put all those layers in."

He said that parents need to be aware of how their children are using devices.

"Take a proactive approach to monitor what your child does at home."

Gibbons says he will continue to press the school system for answers.