Education Roundup: Security problems trouble school netbooks

Dylan Silver

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Do the benefits of technology outweigh the problems it can cause? For some parents, Lake Tahoe Unified’s netbook program sways back and forth between the question’s two answers.

Dee, a South Lake Tahoe parent, recently caught her middle school-aged son looking at pornography on the machine. Her understanding was that the computers were blocked from accessing explicit sites.

“I am totally appalled and I just don’t know what to do,” she said.

Though the district has the ability to monitor the students’ online activity, high school and middle school students, some as young as 12, have found ways around the system’s security blocks.

“It seems like the wrong thing to play trial and error with,” Dee said. “Before they take them home, it should be a more secure thing.”

The district’s system administrator Joe Pfeil is constantly playing catch-up to online strays. He monitors the online traffic of the more than 2,000 netbooks every day.

“What’s happening is the kids are already a step ahead of us and they’re bypassing the filters,” Pfeil said.

Pfeil said he can catch kids who hack through the security filters by monitoring the search terms they use. At any given time, there’s usually about 30 netbooks he’s keeping his eye on for violations, he said.

“It’s actually a very small percentage that’s doing this,” Pfeil said.

At the start of the year, parents and students sign a contract that says they’ll only use the computers for school-related work. When students are caught violating the contract, their netbook is taken away on the first offense. The second offense results in a permanent revocation.

The fifth graders at the Lake Tahoe Environmental Science and Magnet School will host the Sweethearts Dinner and Fairytale Theater on Feb. 9.

First seating is between 5:30 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. and second seating between 6:30 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. The Fairytale Theater starts 6:15 p.m.

Dinner includes spaghetti, garlic bread, beverage and desert. A family ticket for two adults and two kids is $35. Single tickets for adults are $8 while kids are $5.

There will also be raffle prizes and a silent auction. All items have been donated by local businesses. Proceeds benefit the 5th grade educational field trip to the Marine Science Institute. Buy your tickets in advance from Shannon Berri. She can be reached at 530-577-4668.

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