The mother of an Indian Creek Middle School student never thought she needed to police her daughter’s use of a school-issued iPad until she saw the emails.
Jeanine Wilkerson realized something was wrong when her 12-year-old daughter inadvertently copied her on an email she was sending to a 20-year-old man. Wilkerson took the iPad and tried to learn more about whom the email was being sent to.
That’s when she saw her daughter had emailed the man more than 100 times, mostly while she was at school. The pair had met playing the online game Clash of Clans, which Indian Creek students are allowed to keep on their iPads and lets users email each other. In one of the messages, the 20-year-old told Wilkerson’s daughter that a girl in high school had once emailed him nude pictures of herself, Wilkerson said.
The man also knew where Wilkerson’s daughter went to school because of her Indian Creek email address, Wilkerson said.
“It was frightening. Just the unknown of it,” she said.
Wilkerson reported what happened to Trafalgar police and to school officials, who already were adjusting their iPad and Internet use policies.
This school year Indian Creek purchased iPads for all sixth- through 12th-graders, and the middle and high school principals saw that students needed to learn earlier how to keep themselves safe online. The principals also realized that allowing students to keep games and social media apps on the iPads would cause some students to be distracted during the school day, playing games and talking to their friends instead of focusing in class.
Next school year school officials want students to continue to be able to do online research and Internet-based assignments with the iPads. But Indian Creek Middle School assistant principal Sean Zachery wants to take more time teaching students and parents about why it’s dangerous for students to send emails or photos to people they don’t know. And administrators said students at both the middle and high school will need to earn the privilege of having games on their iPads.
“We learned a lot, and I think it’ll be a very different program next year,” Zachery said. “But we’re making the best we can with a tough situation, and I’m looking forward to next year as we understand better the ins and outs and where we need to improve.”
When Indian Creek students use their iPads to go online, any websites they visit or searches they conduct are sent through the school district’s filter, regardless of where the student is using the devices. That means students can’t access a website the school district has blocked, even if they’re using the iPad at home. Indian Creek officials also receive a report anytime students use the iPads to conduct searches with words including “gun,” “suicide” or sexually explicit words, Zachery said.
But school officials can’t stop students from emailing other people with the devices. The principals didn’t know of other instances of Indian Creek students emailing people they don’t know with their iPads, but they do know it’s been a problem for students in other Indiana school districts.
“That’s the problem we’re having. We can’t shut down the Internet,” Zachery said.
That’s why this fall Zachery wants the middle school to spend more time talking about Internet safety with students and with parents who might have never before had to think about what their children were doing online.
The Wilkerson family added Internet access to their home this school year after Indian Creek issued the iPads. Previously, Wilkerson’s cellphone provided an Internet hot spot anytime her daughters needed to use the family’s laptop to look something up.
Wilkerson didn’t allow her kids to take the laptop to their rooms because she always wanted to be able to see what they were working on. But she didn’t regularly monitor what her kids were doing online after they received the iPads from their school, she said.
Wilkerson took her daughter’s iPad away after finding the emails this month and told school officials that her child was not to use the device for the rest of the school year. Instead, she used paper and pencil to complete all of her assignments through the end of the school year, Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson considers what happened a warning for her family and said she’ll check her girls’ emails and Internet activity more often. She also said she wants school officials to find more ways to ensure students aren’t emailing strangers.
Administrators at Indian Creek and Center Grove schools said students need to be able to learn how to use the devices and the Internet responsibly. This school year Center Grove also purchased iPads for all of its high school students, and next school year Center Grove eighth-graders also will be given iPads. But both school districts have had problems with students using the devices for play instead of school work.
Hundreds of Center Grove students found a way to reprogram the devices within a day of receiving them in the fall, so they could add their own apps and games. The school district then had to collect and update the iPads to ensure students were using them only for schoolwork.
Originally, Indian Creek let students use the devices to play games, download apps and access Facebook, Instagram and other social media sites. But middle and high school teachers noticed that too many students were playing games or loading status updates, instead of working on English and math assignments in class, Zachery and Indian Creek High School assistant principal Nick Sears said.
Earlier this school year, high school students had access to the app store, where they could download hundreds of games and programs to play music and videos, removed from their iPads. And while Indian Creek will allow students to upload certain games to the devices, including Clash of the Clans, high school students will have to earn that privilege by not failing any classes, regularly attending school and not having any discipline problems, Sears said.
Starting next school year, middle school students will have to meet similar requirements before they can download games to their devices. Students also will have to wait at least nine weeks before downloading any games, Zachery said. That will enable the middle school to spend more time teaching students and parents about how to use the Internet safely, he said.
Middle school students all completed lessons in online safety this school year, but some students took the lessons later in the school year, Zachery said. Next school year, he said, online safety will be one of the first lessons students complete.
The middle school also will have technology open houses where parents can learn online safety tips. Sears said the high school already makes online safety a part of emails and newsletters that are sent to parents, and they include tips such as not letting students keep the devices in their rooms and keeping kids off the Internet after 9 p.m.
“It’s kind of like going out late at night,” he said. “At a certain point, only bad things happen.”