Sunday, April 10, 2011

Third graders at Astoria elementary school surf pornographic pictures on school computers

Janet Gordillo, Parent Association President of PS 85 in Queens, spoke out on how better measures must be taken to ensure students can't access inappropriate content at school.

Janet Gordillo, Parent Association President of PS 85 in Queens, spoke out on how better measures must be taken to ensure students can't access inappropriate content at school.

A group of third-graders at a Queens elementary school recently got an illicit lesson on the female anatomy after they pulled up what school officials called "inappropriate" images on their classroom computers.

Once the principal at Public School 85 in Astoria was notified, city technicians wiped the computers clean, installed updated Internet filters and sent the seven pint-size voyeurs to in-school suspension, school officials said.

But the ease with which a group of 8-year-olds bypassed the city's Internet filter system has sparked worries that this could be a citywide problem.

"The concern here is that a Department of Education filter shouldn't fail the [test of] 'Are you smarter than a third-grader?'" said City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), who is looking into the matter.

"As a parent, I hope that something like this never happens again," he added.

PS 85 Principal Ann Gordon-Chang said it was an "isolated" incident.

"It wasn't porn," said Gordon-Chang, who learned what happened last month after a parent complained. "The kids typed in 'hot girls' and pictures came up."

"When we found out, the children weren't allowed to go into the computers," she said. "It was dealt with immediately, parents were contacted."

Since the incident, the Education Department has installed new filters citywide, Gordon-Chang said.

The city can also block websites that schools deem inappropriate, an Education Department official said. But city officials did not immediately respond to questions about the filters and the updates.

Parents were pleased to learn the city was putting in new measures.

"We need better filtering to make sure this doesn't happen again," said PS 85 Parent Association President Janet Gordillo. "I'm sure if it's happening in this one school, it's happening in other schools."

Monica Major, a Bronx rep on the influential Panel for Educational Policy, agreed.

"Nothing is foolproof, but a lot of security breaches are preventable," she said. "It may be expensive, but you have to put the money out to protect the students."

James Cox, a computer and information science professor at Brooklyn College, said that no filter is 100% effective.

"There are billions of Web pages," he said. And "sites could cleverly disguise their content so they might not initially appear to be inappropriate."

But he added that the city's filter wasn't very good if a group of third-graders were able to circumvent it.

"However, if any of the kids is clever and has a 14-year-old sibling at home that knows how to hack, there's probably no system that would be secure," he said.

Sonya Hampton, Parent Teacher Association president of PS 149 in Harlem, said the solution is paying more attention to students.

"When the children are in the classroom, they should be monitored better," Hampton said. "We should have had more supervision."

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