Schools ask for parental help in tackling cyber issues

In the wake of end-of-the-school-year bomb threats, Southwest Licking officials are urging parents to closely monitor the Internet activity of their sons and daughters.

“Kids today are very knowledgeable with computers, and it’s a shrinking world with all the technology,” Southwest Licking Superintendent Robert Jennell said. “I’m asking for parents to always find out what their kids are doing on their computers, find out who they’re talking to.”

Jennell spoke a week after the Licking County Sheriff’s Office arrested two teens, ages 16 and 15, following their alleged involvement in sending two different bomb threats to Watkins Memorial High School during the last week of school.

The teens allegedly sent separate threats to the high school via email. One of the threats led to the school being evacuated and bomb-sniffing dogs being brought in to search the school and the surrounding parking lot.

Prior to the bomb threats, the school district encountered other cyber-related issues during the school year.

Also in May, the district alerted parents to a data breach that could have involved the release of student Social Security numbers. A high school student allegedly was involved in the breach, which impacted up to 113 students. The sheriff’s office also is involved in that case.

Prior to that, in November, a 19-year-old former student allegedly wrote on a current student’s Instagram account that he was going to commit murder at the school. After being arrested, he claimed the threat was not serious.

Athletes from Watkins Memorial and Licking Heights also have bone back and forth on social media in recent years before the cross-town rivalry football game, with Heights officials learning via some of the posts that someone from Heights had allegedly urinated on Watkins Memorial’s football field in 2013. That led to an investigation and student discipline.

Jennell said Southwest Licking has attempted to educate students about the proper use of the Internet and different social media applications. It has brought in a prosecutor to talk to middle school students, and its policies, including its student bullying and student harassment policies, specifically reference the issue. Still, the issues have cropped up, he said.

“Kids are getting into serious problems, and the consequences are going to stick with them throughout their lives,” Jennell said.

That is where parents come into play, Jennell said.

While the school district’s student handbook includes an entire section on acceptable student use, including etiquette, of the district’s internet connection and computers, it cannot monitor usage off school property, Jennell said.

“You can train someone to drive and when you turn them loose with the car you just have to hope they follow the guidelines,” Jennell said.

Jennell said the district intends to place an even greater emphasis on Internet usage moving forward, but he said parents also can help.

“This is not just a school issue,” Jennell said. “It’s a parent issue, a community issue.”

Licking Heights Superintendent Philip Wagner agreed.

Heights has had to deal with its own social media-related issues, and Wagner said the district cannot tackle them on its own via policies and education.

“In any educational setting, the most successful we can be is when we have a partnership with the parents,” Wagner said.

Wagner added Heights tries to stay on top of the issue, but it is ever changing due to new apps.

“We need to continue to be vigilant because the (tech) environment is always changing,” Wagner said. “(The students) go from one social media site to another.”

Heights is looking to involve parents in its effort to address the issue in 2015-16.

The district intends to hold community forums for parents, and aside from addressing drug use, the forums will address social media issues.

Cyber tips for parents

Choose an online service provider that offers parental control features. The features can block access to chat rooms, bulletin boards, news groups and discussion groups, even the entire Internet.

Monitor your children when they are online and monitor the time they spend online. If your child becomes uneasy or defensive when you walk into the room, that could be a sign he or she is doing something forbidden by you.

Purchase blocking software to design your own safety system. The software can block searches by name, even entire categories of material.

If your child receives threatening emails or pornographic material, save the offensive material and contact your local law enforcement agency, in addition to the user’s Internet service provider.

Know your children’s friends and their parents. Talk to the parents about the Internet rules they have established. Find out if they are monitoring their children while they are online.

Source: Network Advocate