April 24, 2004 The V.I. Department of Education held public hearings Saturday to gather input from parents and educators on the Internet Acceptable Use Policy the department is planning to adopt.
` This will be the first policy implemented territory wide to set guidelines on conduct for Internet use in the territory's public schools.
The adoption of the policy, which has to be done by the end of the month, will bring the territory in compliance with the Children's Internet Protection Act.
"It serves the purpose of protecting our kids from certain harmful information on the Internet," Dr. Clinton Stapleton, director of the state office of Instructional Technology said. He presented the policy in the morning on St. Croix and in the afternoon on St. Thomas.
Internet access is available to all students and educational personnel in the public school system through the Educational Territory Area Network (ETAN). Currently all access at the school is filtered except Joseph Sibilly and Peace Corps schools. Each school presently has its own guidelines.
However, for the territory to continue using Education Rate (E-Rate) funds, a territory-wide policy governing conduct of Internet use for teachers and students has to be in place by April 30. Last year, the government received $5.1 million in E-Rate funds, which can only be used for telecommunications services in the schools.
"In order to secure funding, we have to take measures for our kids to be protected," Stapleton said.
No parents attended the St. Thomas hearing. It took place at 3 p.m. at the Curriculum Center and simultaneously, through videoconferencing, at the Julius E. Sprauve School in St. John.
Under the policy, any student using the Internet at the schools must have their parents written permission saying they can do so.
"The idea is not to have any child excluded from the Internet," Elaine Williams, legal counsel of JDL Technologies, said. JDL Technologies provides technological consultation for the Education Department.
The few persons in the audience, who were members of the department, raised the issue that parents may not understand the Internet Use Policy as it was written.
Stapleton said the department could look into it being written in plainer language.
Stapleton said, so far, the department has not had any problems with children and harmful Internet use, "but we don't want to wait until we have any issues either."
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