Keeping schoolchildren safe from adult content or other age-inappropriate media topped the discussion on Tuesday’s regularly scheduled meeting of the Madison County School Board in Ridgeland.
District Technology Director Gavin Guynes provided trustees with an update on improvements to systems designed to monitor the online habits of students and block access to nudity and violence.
“We are constantly reviewing and updating our software to make sure the systems we have in place can keep the internet secure,” Guynes said.
In addition to blocking content, the system gives educators a way to do a behavioral analysis of students’ internet use.
“If a student is trying to access porn or is depressed, considering self-harm or possibly causing harm to others, the system alerts us to those situations,” Guynes said.
He said this has already been useful in raising those kinds of red flags for officials.
“If this technology had not been with us during this past year, we feel there would be two students who would no longer be with us,” Guynes said.
Though the system can’t control what content students might access on private computers, it monitors all school district devices. Currently all pre-K through grade 1 students receive an i-pad; students in grades 2 through 8 receive a Chromebook, and students in grades 9 through 12 receive a MacBook.
Guynes said the district uses software from a variety of sources to monitor the systems, the primary one being “Linewize,” which describes itself online as the world’s most comprehensive cyber safety platform for students and educators.
The update came as one parent questioned whether the district was doing all it could to prevent students from accessing inappropriate media, in this case, a more traditional library book.
Representing a group called “Madison Parents for Freedom” parent Rylon Thompson raised specific objects over a book called “There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom,” written by Louis Sachar.
Turning to visitors and guests, Thompson asked, “Do any of you think it is appropriate for a girl in the third grade to be reading about a boy in the girls’ bathroom?”
As several people nodded, Thompson said he is “sick and tired of these books in our schools,” adding that he feels “they are leading people astray.”
He also questioned why members of his group and other parents can’t see a full list of available library books online. He said the lists used to be available but after he and other members of his group began complaining access to the site became restricted.
Addressing Thompson, School Board President Dr. Pollia Griffin said officials were aware of his concerns and that they are working to address them.
“We expect a final report from the committee we have assigned to study this in August,” she said.
The book in question is described on Wikipedia as a 1987 juvenile fiction novel about a fifth-grade bully named Bradley. The title comes from a point when a character, Jeff, is embarrassed after accidentally entering the girls’ bathroom.
In other district news:
Superintendent Charlotte Seals said parents who want their children to continue to receive free meals during the coming school year will have to apply based on need. Other students will again have to pay.
“During the past two years we have been able to provide free meals for all students, but the federal funding for that program has expired,” Seals said.