SALT LAKE COUNTY — The mother of a middle school student in Utah was horrified to find that her son had been able to access explicit images on a school-issued laptop.
There had been a few instances of things like this happening in the past, but with additions of home security systems and safeguards on the Chromebook, she thought it was safe.
“It's definitely not something we would want him to have unrestricted access to,” the woman, whose identity is being kept private, said in an interview with FOX 13. “I caught some actual pornography on my son's school Google Drive.”
On top of that, she told us that her son had looked up sexually inappropriate memes and was able to access things on YouTube (which does not allow full pornography) that were less graphic but still not appropriate for her comfort.
She added that teachers often post their lessons on YouTube after the class has wrapped up.
“It’s a great resource, but it’s available alongside everything else on there," she said.
The mom reached out to the Jordan School District and the school itself to try and find out what had happened and how she could prevent this from happening again.
“We didn’t hear from them for several days,” she said Friday. "They finally contacted us after a nudge from the Utah State Board of Education that I contacted on Thursday.”
One reason why the Chromebook was able to get around their home security system, she learned, is because third-party applications that would normally filter out inappropriate content won’t work on school-given laptops since schools still administrate those computers.
Another possible reason, she said, is that children are sharing information on how to get around the blocks.
For example, while the word “sex” may be blocked, adding two additional letters such as “sexss” in a search would allow the word through since it wouldn’t be blocked in the district's IT systems.
This mother says her son is “pretty determined," but she said she's confident that such strategies would not naturally occur to him.
“It doesn’t surprise me to learn that there is some knowledge sharing about this stuff," she added.
The Jordan School District issued a statement to FOX 13, saying in part: “We thoroughly investigate all reports of inappropriate use of District issued electronic devices and accounts and continually enhance security for student safety.”
This mother also said she got a call from several higher-ups at her son’s school who have now pledged to fix the issue. However, she said her son would most likely have to use their family's own Chromebook that would allow a home security system to block explicit images and problematic content.
“They're putting a Chromebook in my child's hands and expecting them to learn using it," she said with frustration in her voice. "It is their responsibility to resolve this issue.”
But this isn’t a Jordan School District-specific issue — the potential is there for this to happen all across the state and the country as more students take to an online or hybrid form of education during the pandemic.
That is the big reason this parent reached out to FOX 13, because she is frustrated about having to constantly watch over her child’s shoulder for things. But she also has a message for fellow parents.
"I really would like parents to realize their child is not as safe as they may think they are,” she said. “I would urge all parents to be more involved.”