There could be more than just homework on your child’s school-issued laptop or tablet, according to a recent cybersecurity audit report released by the Mississippi State Auditor’s office.
State Auditor Stacey Pickering’s office found 20 percent of the 150 laptop and desktop computers from nine school districts “showed evidence that that students were able to access explicit material on school-issued devices.” Worse yet, 86 percent of the computers surveyed from seven middle schools, and 82 percent of devices analyzed from 11 high schools, found objectionable material such as pornography.
The report said the districts’ filtering systems were ineffective at filtering inappropriate material, which is a violation of the Children’s Internet Protection Act. That federal law mandates that schools and libraries participating in the federally-supported E-rate program block and filter internet access that is obscene or harmful to minors.
Several school districts in the state — such as the Tupelo and Clinton school districts — issue laptops and tablets to students under the One to One Digital Learning Initiative for use on their studies, and allow students to access the internet, digital course materials and books. Some of these districts, including the Clarksdale Municipal School District, received federal grants to provide each student with a computer or tablet.
According to the report, the nine districts didn’t enforce internet safety and acceptable use policies. In particular, they didn’t ensure that technology protection measures — such as web filters — were operational and effective. Also, one of the districts didn’t maintain filtering for when students take their computers home.
The auditor’s office said since it was a blind review, the identity of the districts with the compromised computers and monitoring systems won’t be revealed.
The report recommended that the Mississippi Department of Education should do the following:
- Help districts with alternative solutions to evaluate the effectiveness of their monitoring apparatus.
- Establish uniform policies for all districts on monitoring and filtering of student internet use.
- Enact a policy requiring districts to monitor school-issued devices off school grounds with substantial penalties for non-compliance.
The OSA also suggested that districts should regularly test their monitoring systems and inform parents with tips on how to keep their children safe online.
The MDE says it will continue to provide assistance to districts so they can remain compliant with the Children’s Internet Protection Act.
“The MDE provides technical assistance to districts upon request to help districts implement best practices. We will continue to provide technical assistance in the area of internet security,” MDE spokesperson Patrice Guilfoyle told Mississippi Watchdog.