Vorige Start Omhoog

5th-graders who viewed porn could face charges

Boys searched for sex images on school computer.

Lisa Schencker, The Salt Lake Tribune, May 15, 2009

Two American Fork fifth-graders could face criminal charges for looking at pornography on a school computer, but some people are wondering how they were able to access the images in the first place.

Police were called last week after two 11-year-old boys at Forbes Elementary School pulled up images of sexual acts on a school computer and then showed the pictures to nine other students, said American Fork Police Sgt. Gregg Ludlow. The incident came to light when one child told a parent and another told the principal.

Ludlow called the images "pretty explicit" but declined to elaborate. He said the boys made multiple attempts on different days to access inappropriate material. Ultimately, they typed the word "lesbian" into a search engine and were able to pull up pictures not blocked by the school's Internet filter.

The school suspended the boys for two days. They could face charges in juvenile court of dealing in material harmful to a minor or lesser charges for viewing pornography at school, or be referred to the probation department instead of going to court, among other possibilities, said Chris Yannelli, deputy Utah County Attorney. 

"If they are adjudicated in juvenile court, consequences range from community service to serving time in a juvenile detention facility", he said.

Rhonda Bromley, Alpine School District spokeswoman, said district officials decided to involve police based on the seriousness of the case.

"The bottom line is, because of the age it's obviously a sensitive thing, but what they did was inappropriate, and it was wrong, so as educators and a society hopefully we need to help them learn that," Bromley said. "It's a little disappointing to hear people say, "Boys will be boys.' ... I don't know what the magic age is when people can stop saying 'Well, boys will be boys.'"

Ludlow said the boys subjected the other children to something they might not otherwise have seen.

"Our main emphasis is not to hammer these kids," Ludlow said. "If we can get them into the juvenile justice system and make sure they're getting some counseling or other services, that's our end goal."

But some say it was the school's responsibility to make sure inappropriate material was blocked from classroom computers, and the students shouldn't face criminal charges. A woman who identified herself as the mother of one of the boys spoke to host Doug Wright during his morning radio show Tuesday on KSL. She said the boys should not have been able to access the images.

"My first reaction was, 'Why did you do something so stupid?' but then I'm like, 'How? How did you do this? How was this able to be accessed when I send you to school and there are supposed to be filtration systems?' " she said on the show. "We are so disturbed at how this could be accessible at school."

Bromley said the district uses a filtration system provided through the Utah Education Network (UEN). All schools must have Internet filters in order to get federal discounts on telecommunication services and Internet access. Jim Stewart, UEN director of technical services, said 38 of the state's 40 school districts use the filter provided through UEN, as do all the state's charter schools. The other two districts, Jordan and Salt Lake City, have their own filtering systems.

The state also requires schools to hand out forms for parents and students to sign each year agreeing to use the Internet appropriately.

Stewart said the filter works by blocking millions of Web sites that contain inappropriate material, everything from pornography to hate speech. Every day, the company that runs the filter adds thousands of new Web sites to the list of sites to be blocked.

Stewart said it can be a challenge to keep up with the constant creation of new pornographic Web sites.

"The pornography sites are constantly changing and adding urls, and filtering providers are constantly out there on a search for those," Stewart said.

He said school districts can also block Web sites beyond those on the list. Bromley said Alpine has since taken steps to block the types of sites the boys accessed.

She said the district is also looking into how to handle student Internet access when substitutes are assigned to classrooms. Normally, the boys' teacher would have been able to see all the students' screens on her computer, but a substitute who didn't have access to that system was teaching that day, Bromley said. She said the school has since rearranged the room so that the teacher's desk will face students' computer screens. She said the principal also decided to no longer allow classes to use the computer lab when they have substitute teachers.

"Obviously it's a concern how they were able to get around the filter and how they were able to access it at school," Bromley said. "You want to feel like you can send your kids to school and you want to feel confident something like that isn't going to happen."

Vorige Start Omhoog