February 8, 2019

5 Angry Parents Speak Up About Unprotected School-issued Chromebooks

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has heard numerous stories in recent years of children being exposed to hardcore and softcore pornography at school and on school-issued devices. Sometimes, the schools have inadequate, outdated, or poorly managed filters in place at the school level (check out our project to address this here). Sometimes, the problems we hear about stem from exposure to sexually explicit content through school research databases like EBSCO where teachers are sending students to read short stories, learn about current events, or research specific topics. The majority of stories we hear, however, come from students access to sexually explicit content on school-issued devices. While loopholes and accidents may happen as technology accelerates, most of the time, it seems these incidents could be completely avoided if adults were willing to put in a little more effort to make sure these tools were safe for kids.

Google Chromebooks owns nearly 60% of the market for devices purchased for US classrooms. While there is much good that comes from more digital access, we must also be concerned about the safety of our students as well. Google prides itself in the great tools built to assist teachers and create a robust learning environment for our youth, but as of yet, they are unwilling to even turn on a filter for devices sent to schools. It is difficult to expect our overburdened, underfunded school districts to go through the complicated process of making sure each device is as safe as can be when Google can make this an easy, automatic built-in feature that comes preloaded on devices used in schools.

Learn more about our concerns regarding Google’s Chromebook in schools here.

Stories we have heard recently from concerned parents:

#1 – B Family, VA

Our elementary school gave Chromebooks to K-5 graders and the 3-5th graders are able to take their Chromebooks home with them. The Principal assured us that the devices would be secure both at the school and if used elsewhere and that kids would not be able to access inappropriate websites. When my neighbor’s son brought his computer home, his mom and I looked over it. A simple search in Google Images with a pornographic term yielded lots of porn pictures. The device didn’t even have the built-in controls turned on. We asked the Principal about it and he said that must have been the only one with that problem as he was assured that the devices were secure off of school grounds. We then asked a few other parents to look at their kids’ devices and they found the same thing. They were completely unlocked and open to bringing up everything at least in Google Images. Our school is looking into the problem now. We are furious though!

#2 – Sara, OK

My daughter’s teacher instructed her students to use their Chromebooks to look up YouTube videos about Latin American culture. The kids got into small groups and looked things up. My daughter’s group landed on videos with women dancing and in the middle of one of the videos, the dancers took off their clothes and were fully nude. After laughs, the teacher realized what they were looking at and turned it off. The teacher and the school never told any of the parents. We only know because my daughter and another student explained what happened to us. YouTube is not a safe environment for the classroom or for kids to be unsupervised. This teacher was completely untrained and claimed she had no idea such content was available on YouTube. They told us that they can’t block content within YouTube — that it is all or nothing. Why are we giving kids access to this stuff at school? Can’t we create a better learning environment?

#3 – Kathryn, VA

Our school district has been bragging about giving every student their very own Chromebook, touting what a wonderful educational opportunity this is for our kids. I agreed, too…

About 6 months after getting her own school-issued device, my daughter started to change though. She became withdrawn from our family, depressed, unmotivated. Everything seemed to make her angry. Her language to all in our home because harsh and bitter. We thought perhaps it was just a new phase. But, a couple of weeks ago, I opened her bedroom door to check on her in the middle of the night and she was in bed watching pornography on her school Chromebook. I’ll be honest. My immediate reaction wasn’t good. The next day when my husband and I sat down with her to talk about this, she crumbled into our laps in tears. Our nine-year-old little girl has been watching pornography for hours most nights for months now and we had no idea.  She talked about horrors she has seen and worries she is going to have to do the same things. She talked about how she feels bad sometimes watching it but that she cannot stop herself.

I brought this up to the school and they essentially said that we were responsible for filtering our home Internet and it wasn’t their fault even though it was a device given to her by them. I thought the device was protected.

I have failed her in so many ways. What do we do now? How many other families are experiencing this too?

 

#4 – E.A.

I do not want my 6th grader to have a Chromebook unless the district adds strict restrictions on all the devices. I have volunteered at my son’s 5th-grade library and I saw kids on totally inappropriate pages. I asked the librarian about controls and he said they have none. They trust the kids to make good choices? Really- my 7th grader was caught on a porn site at his school’s computer lab. He told us all his friends go on these pages. So what are the restrictions that will prevent my son from visiting porn sites or getting into other things with something the school now issues to him?

 

#5 – Teacher commenting on Reddit

Four of my 9yo female students were briefly exposed to a graphic anal sex gif that had been left loaded on a Chromebook. They were all quite traumatised and the school and department have launched a thorough investigation. However what that investigation has so far revealed is really disturbing, as the knowledge required to circumvent the school internet filters and the steps taken to cover their tracks suggest it may have been done deliberately and possibly by an adult. As a victim of child sexual abuse, I now can’t get this thought out of my head. Listening to one of the parents sobbing for 5 minutes when they realised what their child had seen was absolutely heartbreaking. I’m not anti porn, but today’s porn is so graphic and aggressive it horrifies me that their innocence has been ripped away. Even more so when realising that one had been exposed to porn by an older sibling and another at a former school.

 

Do you have a story to share? Submit it here or email it to public@ncose.com. All will be kept anonymous.

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Dawn Hawkins

Senior Vice President & Executive Director

Dawn Hawkins is a passionate abolitionist and defender of human rights who has dedicated her life to fighting against societal harms that threaten the dignity of others. Her energy, creativity and mobilization skills have revived the anti-pornography movement and her intentional emphasis on the intersectionality of forms of sexual exploitation has proven a unique and effective strategy for curbing them.

 

As Sr. Vice President and Executive Director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), Mrs. Hawkins has developed a global strategy uniting more than 300 women’s rights, conservative, child advocacy, medical professionals, law enforcement, and religious groups, including a bipartisan political leadership, to work together in raising awareness of the connections between all forms of sexual exploitation. Her initiatives have lead to sweeping policy changes of policies that foster exploitation for targets such as Google, Hilton Worldwide, Comcast, Walmart, and the Department of Defense. Through her leadership, NCOSE has grown a network reaching hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. Mrs. Hawkins has appeared on many local and national television programs, including Fox & Friends, CNN and Good Morning America. She regularly authors articles and speaks around the country addressing the public health harms of pornography, curbing demand for sex trafficking, protecting children and families in our digital world, and more.

 

Dawn regularly volunteers for organizations devoted to helping children and refugees. She is a graduate of Tufts University and currently resides with her husband and three children in Virginia.

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