AUSTIN (KXAN) — Eanes ISD elementary school students will have significantly limited access to the internet on district-issued iPads as they head back to school Wednesday.
The school district completely revamped what is available to its youngest students after a 6-year-old was able to view pornographic images just by searching for terms like “naked girl.”
“That played a factor in [the changes], but it was not the sole factor,” said superintendent Dr. Tom Leonard. “We’re always adapting.”
After that incident, the district allowed parents to opt out of its iPad program for the remainder of the school year. A handful of families did so, but they won’t have that option this year. An Eanes ISD spokesperson said it won’t be necessary with the safety measures they’ve implemented.
This year, students at Eanes’ six elementary schools will be issued what administrators call “green iPads,” stripped-down versions of what their older peers will be able to use. Instead of building up firewalls to try to block everything they don’t want kids to access, the technology department started with a clean slate and only added what they do want.
With input from teachers and administrators, the district built a list of just 160 websites that will be accessible to elementary-schoolers. Google, Yahoo, social media and YouTube are all unavailable on the “green” iPads.
The district can add websites to the list as teachers discover more that they’d like their students to access.
“Right now, with this specific device, I’m really confident that they’re not going to be able to get into anything that we don’t want them to be into,” said Dr. Kristy Sailors, the district’s director of instructional technology.
The same rules will apply to applications. The iPads come with a handful of pre-loaded apps and teachers will be able to instruct students to download new ones from pre-approved lists.
“We want them not to be distractions,” Leonard said. “We want the screen time to be productive.”
Middle school and high school students will have more freedom than the younger kids. The district is still using more traditional firewalls to block content rather than only including certain sites.
Older students need more flexibility, Leonard said, because the topics they’re researching and writing about are more complex and sometimes controversial.
The district will still block at least some YouTube video content at the middle school level, but won’t go to the full “green” iPad it’s rolling out to elementary-schoolers.
“I think at some point there’s going to be a shade of green at the middle school, or a different color or something of that nature,” Leonard said. “We’re still talking that through with our staff. We are doing some things in terms of some websites already at the middle school level that we are blocking.”