WREG looks at how school systems monitor student activity on school computers

MEMPHIS, TN - The internet is the window to the world and the connection many schools use to expose students to new information.

"Most of the classes have chrome books in them and they are available to the students," says Talvickeo Banks, Director of Technology in the West Memphis School District. "They pretty much have access to computers or some form of computers all day. "

But just like in the real world, in schools that information may come at a cost.

The school system monitors students activity and are on alert for threats made against them or even by them.

"If you access a computer on our network it is monitored. If there is any activity that needs to be flagged, then it does that. It also sends out a notification to the administration," says Banks.

West Memphis is not the only one with the watchful eye.

Schools across the country are supposed to carefully monitor student activity. But some states found 'that' monitoring severely lacking.

Mississippi State Auditor Stacey Pickering did an audit of activity on schools issued computers in 12 schools systems last spring, including in North Mississippi.
What he found was disturbing.

"What we discovered was the vast majority, over 80-percent of the I-pads and laptops that we checked were actually going to pornographic and bullying sites, even we had some checking into terrorist sites," says Pickering.

School issued computers were being used for things that could lead to big trouble.

"What we discovered was the student knew how to get around the firewall at the school. But what we discovered is even when the student went home, the schools had no protection on the device itself," says Pickering.

The audit,  to make sure districts had security firewalls in place, found many did not and some even tried to hide the fact.

"We actually found some I-T managers in some school districts trying to cover their tracks that they weren't doing a good job. Not realizing that an audit's purpose is a management tool. Are you doing the job they thought you were doing?  But once those I-T managers crossed that line and started deleting histories, they became part of the problem themselves," says Pickering.

Mississippi has an Internet Safety Policy and Technology Protection measure schools districts are supposed to follow.
It blocks and filters internet access to material that is considered obscene or harmful to minors.

But the audit found 9 districts did not even enforce their policies.

Of 18 schools tested, 86 percent of middle school devices and 82 percent of high school devices contained explicit material like pornography.
But that's not all.

"They could go anywhere they wanted to and it was the wild wild West. Basically we are giving kids the keys to the kingdom. We are letting them have access to Pandora's box," says Pickering.

This first of its kind audit for Mississippi will provide a measuring stick for schools districts who are now encouraged to make changes, including evaluating their systems, setting new filtering policies and instituting penalties for violations.

In West Memphis, Arkansas,  parents like Linda Murray say procedures and policies are crucial.
She says her  14-year-old daughter, Jamiria, has run away 5 times in the last year, each time with a man she apparently met on the internet.
The teen was barred from the internet, even denied use of a cell phone, but her mom says Jamiria was able to contact the man through her school computer and arrange for him to pick her up at school.

"We are talking about a 14-year-old child. There is no way she should be able to just walk off campus and the parent not be notified," says Murray.  "She downloaded an app and got on the computer, which I don't understand. If you got a teacher in the classroom watching the kids do their work, how can you not see a kid downloading an app the class is not supposed to be on? "

West Memphis School leaders say student computer access is monitored, but there is little they can do if a student is determined to leave.

In Shelby County School, educators also try to stay on top what students do and are exposed to on the internet.

" The target keeps moving. Every time you think you are secure and you think you have everything under control, something happens and oops we have to plug that now," said John Williams, Chief Information Officer for Shelby County Schools.

He says most social media sites have been blocked on the school district's computers.

Another step the school system took  was giving all 4th through 12th grade students unique log in passwords.

"That allows us to make things a little more secure and give us a window into accountability as well. Nothing is full proof, nothing is perfect. Our kids are very smart, very tech savvy I will say," said Williams.

And in a fast paced and ever-changing technological world, districts are in a constant keep up mode, making sure an information source that isn't going anywhere is also not being used to harm those most vulnerable.

" If schools are responsible and using taxpayers dollars to give them internet access, the last thing we need to do is put sexual predators into their bedrooms," said Pickering.

The Mississippi Attorney General says school districts in the state have embraced the audit and are looking at how to improve their systems.
Shelby County Schools has an acceptable use policy that parents and students must sign regarding usage of the internet.  Teachers also monitor what students do while on computers inside class.
As parent, you can reach out to your district to see what it is doing to keep students safe on-line, especially if your child has specific restrictions when it comes to internet access.