October 25, 2014

Medina
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Wadsworth schools tightens Internet rules

WADSWORTH — New school district policies will hold students and staff more accountable for their Internet use.

The regulations are designed to provide students and staff with greater access to social media use on the district’s network.

But the new rules also increased oversight on what content students view and how staff handles information, such as student records.

The board last month revised 104 separate policies to comply with state laws, including two policies related to Internet use by students and employees of the district.

“We had a number of policy changes we needed to make to stay compliant with the law,” said district Superintendent Andrew Hill.

Hill said the changes were recommended by NEOLA, a consulting firm that develops and updates school board bylaws, policies and administrative procedures, based on state and federal laws.

The new rules allow school faculty to monitor and even block access to online material seen as “detrimental” to students under the Children’s Internet Protection Act, enacted by Congress in 2000.

“The board has implemented technology protection measures, which … filter or block … access to visual displays/depictions/materials that are obscene, constitute child pornography, and/or are harmful to minors, as defined by the Children’s Internet Protection Act,” the new policy reads.

But the changes also eliminated provisions that prohibited students and staff from personal use of social media websites on the school’s network.

Instead, the policy states that “students and staff members are responsible for good behavior on the Board’s computers/network and the Internet just as they are in classrooms, school hallways, and other school premises and school sponsored events.”

The new rules go further in holding faculty and staff accountable in their use of social media — including activity off school property using their own personal computers.

“While the Board respects its employees’ First Amendment rights, those rights do not include permission to post inflammatory comments that could compromise the District’s mission, undermine staff relationships, or cause a substantial disruption to the school environment.”

The new rules also remind staff that federal and state confidentiality laws forbid schools and their employees from using or disclosing student education records without parental consent.

Checks with other school districts in the county showed that other boards have similar policies.

Medina High School Principal Bryan Farson said students and staff have access to a wireless network on their personal devices. But all devices are registered and Internet use is closely monitored.

“When a kid is in the building and they’re hooked to our wireless Internet, if they’re looking at inappropriate content, then there are consequences,” he said. “Sometimes we just call the parents, or what we’ll do is just sometimes suspend their rights — we can shut down their access to that wireless signal.

“Most schools do have an acceptable use policy,” he added. “They’re all using the Internet to get on and do school work and we just want to make sure they’re using it appropriately.”

Highland High School Principal Dana Addis says the rules also help keep students safe from problems like cyberbullying.

“It’s not really about limiting their rights, we look at it more as protecting them than anything else,” Addis said.

Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or dpompili@medina-gazette.com.