When Columbia and Richmond County students head back to school in a couple of weeks, the Internet and all its bells and whistles will be more accessible than ever.
And for administrators this means access to more potential headaches than web addresses. In response, both school systems are bracing for the increased potential of minors' eyes coming across on-line adult-themed material in school.
"It goes to the heart of education and responsibility," said Dave Toburen, director of the state Department of Education's Technology Center at Fort Discovery.
Carol Taylor, Richmond County Schools director of media and technology, said information on the Internet can be an extremely valuable tool in an educational setting.
But the advances in technology can also be an albatross for a school system, rife with liability.
For example, there are Web sites that detail how to set off explosives in school plumbing to drug archives providing recipes for marijuana brownies, along with a plethora of pornographic material featuring naked women, men and sometimes children.
"You can type in an innocuous word and find stuff that's not very good," said Mr. Toburen. "Personally, I don't like some of the stuff out there, but you can't get rid of it."
Over the summer, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a law aimed at protecting minors from "indecent" and "patently offensive" material.
But that won't affect local school districts, wrote attorney Jeffrey T. Sultanik in a recent issue of Your School and the Law newsletter, because it doesn't prohibit school's from using filtering devices.
In fact, Richmond and Columbia County schools utilize filtering software for the Internet. "It's not 100 percent foolproof - but then nothing is," said Mr. Toburen.
Columbia County's blocker weeds out attempts to access on-line searches in four categories: violence and hate, drugs and alcohol, gambling, and sexually explicit language.
When someone tries to access the off-limits material a message in bold letters appears on the computer screen reading "Blocked by Surfwatch Proxy Server." The blocker also identifies the school and computer that the request originated from.
In addition, students are always under teacher supervision when using the Internet, according to Jonnie Ghetti, Columbia County's Assistant Superintendent for Instruction. "Teachers are very much aware of things they need to be watching for," she said.
Likewise, Richmond County students who use the Internet are supervised and are required to have a reason to be on the computer, said Carol Taylor, the school system's director of media and technology.
Also, both systems require parental consent forms authorizing student use of the Internet.
Meanwhile, the Internet censoring has a downside, said Charles Browning, Columbia County Schools director of technology. For example, a student's search for a recent story about sex offenders on The Augusta Chronicle's Web site would turn up empty because of the word "sex," said Mr. Browning.
"A high schooler could not do research for a paper on HIV and safe sex," said Mr. Toburen.
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