iPads pulled from Sonoma classrooms after second-grade students access porn

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Subscribe

Technology across the district:

Sonoma Valley High School: 1-1 Chromebooks since 2017

Adele Harrison and Altimira Middle School: 1-1 Chromebooks since 2018

Elementary school campuses: K-2 use iPads. Grade 3 has iPads in some classrooms and Chromebooks in others. Implementation has varied depending on donations and district funding.

Grades 4 and 5 have used Chromebooks since 2018.

Sonoma Valley school district student iPads were pulled from classrooms Friday, after it was discovered several second-graders had inadvertently accessed sexually explicit adult videos on the devices.

The problem came to light Thursday, March 14, when Prestwood Elementary School parent Katie Walker was at a regularly scheduled parent-teacher conference. Walker was told that a handful of classmates in her second-grade daughter’s class appeared to have accessed inappropriate content on school-issued iPads. When Walker and the teacher examined the school-issued iPad’s Safari search history closer, what they found left both of them shaken.

Walker provided the Index-Tribune with screen shots of the sites accessed by her daughter, age 8, since Feb. 22. Initial searches for the word “kissing” prompted suggestions of other YouTube videos which eventually led to sexually explicit content.

According to Walker, she was told that a substitute teacher had first noticed students accessing inappropriate sites a week earlier. By this week, it turned out, students had viewed what Walker described as “hard-core porn,” through YouTube.

Following the parent-teacher conference, Walker reached out to Prestwood principal Jason Sutter, who arranged for her to meet with senior district staff on Friday morning. Meanwhile, wanting to warn other parents of the issue, Walker posted a comment about it on the private Facebook parents group, Sonomamamas.

“We really like the school and our daughter’s teacher, the only reason I posted what had happened online was to make other parents aware,” she told the Index-Tribune. “I wanted to open a dialogue with parents and get advice on how to get the ball rolling when it initially seemed like the school wasn’t taking what happened seriously enough.”

It has been a tumultuous 24 hours for Walker, but she says she has remained calm and determined throughout. “Being hot-headed or looking for drama isn’t the way to get anything done,” she said.

Bruce Abbott, associate superintendent of the school district, said that the gap in filtering protection is only at the elementary-school level and is confined to iPads and other Apple devices.

“But this had been going on for a while and wasn’t caught,” he told the Index-Tribune.

Walker kept her daughter home from school on Friday. On Friday morning, the school district removed all iPads from K-4 classrooms until new safeguards are in place. Abbott said that by the time students return to school after the upcoming spring break, YouTube and the Safari browser will have been removed from all devices. Over the following weeks, YouTube for Kids will be installed instead.

Elizabeth Kaufman, also an associate superintendent for the district, said that the district did not plan to check the browsing history of the rest of the elementary school iPads but instead will wipe them clean and install the protections.

Walker was surprised to learn school officials weren’t checking iPads in other Prestwood classrooms and district wide. “If I were a parent in another classroom, I would want to be positive that my child hadn’t seen anything inappropriate.”

When Michelle Dale Jernigan’s two daughters attended Prestwood there were no 1-1 devices, just a computer lab. She describes the events of the past week as “a big fat learning curve for everybody.”

“It is so important for the district to be on top of this so that the students, and the teachers, are protected as technology is used more and more in the classroom,” she said.

Technology across the district:

Sonoma Valley High School: 1-1 Chromebooks since 2017

Adele Harrison and Altimira Middle School: 1-1 Chromebooks since 2018

Elementary school campuses: K-2 use iPads. Grade 3 has iPads in some classrooms and Chromebooks in others. Implementation has varied depending on donations and district funding.

Grades 4 and 5 have used Chromebooks since 2018.

In the coming weeks, GoGo Guardian - a classroom website monitoring program already in place at Sonoma Valley High School - will be installed on all K-8 devices, according to Abbott. The application allows teachers and staff to see all classroom screens in real time and, with a click of a button, the teacher can block any inappropriate content.

Walker said that she left the meeting on Friday morning satisfied.

“They were supportive, and grateful that I was coming to them calmly, really wanting to help them get to the bottom of the problem and to fix it,” she said.

District officials said broader communication to district parents would be forthcoming.

Walker said her goal in posting the issue on the Sonomamamas site was to give parents the knowledge they need to protect and support their children.

“As a parent, I would want to know,” she said.

Protecting students from inappropriate content during school hours is the definition of a moving target, said Abbott. Local schools rely on guidance from the Sonoma County Office of Education, which provides all the Internet access and browsing filters across SVUSD.

“And that works pretty well,” Abbott said, with the exception, it turns out, of YouTube and Safari.”

He stressed that it was a district system flaw not the fault of any kids.

“Kids experiment and try things out,” he said. “They didn’t cross any line. We had a hole in our system.”

As kids get older, it is harder to protect them, Abbott said. At the high school level, controlling student access becomes almost impossible.

“Every (high school) kid has a smart phone in their pocket and there is nothing we can do about what they access with it,” said Abbott. “And really, if we could protect everyone entirely that would like be a world you wouldn’t want to live in.”

As for school-owned devices, he said, kids will always try to figure out a way around filters.

“But we can do our best to not make it easy,” he said. “And we need to be extra diligent with the little guys.”

The families of the students known to have accessed the porn sites have been offered counseling.

Email Lorna at lorna@sonomanews.com.

Show Comment

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine