Mother, daughter claim Noble High School students using school laptops to go on Facebook, make videos and watch porn

Posted March 03, 2012, at 5:21 a.m.
Last modified March 04, 2012, at 2:06 p.m.

NORTH BERWICK, Maine — A group of students sit in math class on a typical high school day. The teacher writes algebraic equations on the blackboard, explaining each variable as she goes along. While some students are sitting at their desks, laptops closed and listening intently to the lesson, others are busily engaged with their computer screens — pupils wide and fingers tapping on the condensed keyboard. Some are playing games, while others download movies, chat on Facebook or even view pornography — all on the school’s Internet network. At the end of class, the students delete their laptop history.

This scenario is what Cheryl Hunter and her high school daughter are asserting occurs every day at Noble High School as students use their school-provided laptops for nonacademic ventures. With school officials and administrators remaining relatively mum on the possible security and safety issues that could arise from this type of activity, Cheryl is wondering who is monitoring the children and even if school administrators have the capability to oversee the entire middle and high school populations. Fifty-five percent of public high schools, 1 private high school and 100 percent of middle schools in the state of Maine get laptops from the school district as part of the state’s laptop initiative.

Cheryl first became aware of students using their school laptops for nonacademic activities a couple of weeks ago when her youngest adopted daughter, “Carly” (not her real name. Foster’s is protecting her privacy) informed her that Cheryl’s older adopted daughter, “Vanessa,” (also not her real name. Foster’s is protecting her privacy) had been making videos of herself and her friends and uploading them to YouTube.com — all on her school laptop. Carly showed Cheryl Vanessa’s YouTube page, where more than 50 videos had been uploaded.

While the content of many of the video’s shocked Cheryl, the location of where some of the video’s were shot — in and around the Noble High School building — surprised and frustrated herl even more. Under the subtitle “fun, flirty and outgoing,” Vanessa, a senior at Noble at the time, had been able to film, edit and upload these videos on the school’s Internet network during the schoolday.

While some of the videos were seemingly innocent, (one was a prank call and one was a rendition of Taylor Swift song with Carly and Vanessa singing), some of the videos went beyond the innocent. In one video, Vanessa performs what she calls the “booty dance” where she places her feet on a hallway wall and shakes the bottom half of her body for the computer camera. In another video, which has since been taken down, Vanessa allegedly flashed her phone number and address for the Internet world to view.

Cheryl claims she brought the laptop to Noble High School to present the videos to school officials. Cheryl said she played the videos but school administrators said nothing but “ahhh” and brushed off the issue. According to Carly, school administrators said they have stepped up security, but kids in her classes seem to still be doing the same thing as before Cheryl met with the dean. While a few students have been talked to about their inappropriate use of school laptops, no known disciplinary action has been taken against them, according to Carly.

Cheryl claims she monitors her children’s use of the computer while they are home, including not allowing Carly to go on the Internet unless she’s monitoring the activity. Cheryl said kids can get “sneaky” especially when it comes to contacting people they are not supposed to contact. Cheryl’s two daughters were adopted with court orders set in place to disallow communication between them and their biological parents. According to Cheryl, Vanessa was not only uploading videos to YouTube.com but researching the location and contact information for her biological mother. When Cheryl found out about the videos, Vanessa, who was 18 and legally an adult, left Noble and went to live with her biological mother — all because she was able to use her school computer to discover her mother’s location, Cheryl asserts.

Carly said while on the school’s network, many sites and some actions on the computer, such as deleting files, require passwords. However, students have found ways around it. Carly said the preferred method is asking older students for the passwords or downloading software from the Internet that allows them to bypass the passwords or blocks. Some older students are able to give teacher user names and passwords to younger students to allow prohibited behavior. When students login in with that information, it simply looks as if a teacher has allowed the activity, according to Carly.

Carly, who works in the NHS technology department, said the activity on the computers varies from student to student and could include anything from Facebook, YouTube, downloading music or movies or even watching pornography. Many students hide the activity simply by deleting their Internet history, which erases activity superficially from the machine, but not from the hard drive.

Maine School Administrative District 60 Superintendent Paul Andrade and Noble High School Principal Joe Findley did not return phone calls to Foster’s. Both individuals asked MSAD 60 Technology Director Chris Russo to answer our questions. Russo did not answer questions posed to him concerning district technology policies, challenges or the specific incident that prompted Cheryl and Carly to contact Foster’s.

According to MSAD 60 Board Chairwoman Peg Wheeler, there are many challenges in trying to ensure students are using their laptops for school-related activities. One of the major challenges is ensuring student safety when they are at home. Students are allowed to bring their school laptops home.

According to Wheeler, the school can only monitor student activity when they are on the school’s own network. When they are at home the school has no ability to monitor the activity. There have been talks of making a rule to shut off the laptops at 10 p.m., according to Wheeler, but there has been no formal or even preliminary motion on the matter.

Wheeler said Russo changes administrator passwords very frequently, almost every day. But kids these days are smart and are constantly finding ways around the blocks the school and district put in place. The district has a disciplinary system where students are given two warnings before the laptop is taken away. Wheeler said students are also provided with Internet security and safety classes when they receive their laptops.

As for Carly, she already has suffered some cyberbullying and in-person bullying relating to her coming forward to report student abuse of school laptops. She has filed a report with the school administration detailing the bullying she has experienced.

Visit the Foster’s Daily Democrat (Dover, N.H.) at www.fosters.com/

Distributed by MCT Information Services.

CORRECTION:

Due to a reporter’s error, an early version of this story incorrectly stated the number of 7-12-graders participating in the Maine laptop initiative. Currently, 55 percent of public high schools, 1 private high school and 100 percent of middle schools in the state of Maine are participating in the initiative.

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