April 25, 2004 – The V.I. Department of Education conducted public hearings Saturday to inform the community and receive public comments on its proposed new Internet Acceptable Use policy. Schools and public libraries are required by the federal Children's Protection Act to adopt a policy to continue to receive federal Education Rate (E-Rate) funds.
The E-Rate program distributes up to $2.5 billion to U.S. schools and libraries seeking equipment for connections to the Internet. The funds pay up to 90 percent of the cost of equipment and services. The schools or territory pay the remainder.
Dr. Clinton Stapleton, director of the state office of Instructional Technology, conducted the presentations in St. Croix and St. Thomas.
Stapleton said the notice of the public hearing was sufficiently advertised in several local publications for several weeks. However, only one member of the public attended – Patricia Oliver, a librarian at the St. Croix Educational Complex.
Stapleton said, "Because of our isolation, Internet use is often mandatory in gathering information." He added, "But at the same time we must protect our kids."
A similar public hearing was held in the St. Thomas/St. John district Saturday afternoon. No public participation by parents was reported there either.
Once the public is given an opportunity to provide input, the recommended changes will be reviewed by the commissioner of education and staff. The document will be finalized and signed by Dr. Noreen Michaels, education commissioner. The deadline for the federal receipt of the policy is April 29. The approved document will be posted on the department of education web site at www.doe.vi.
Once the policy is in place, all users, including students, teachers, staff and administration personnel will be required to sign an agreement to the policy. Parents and legal guardians of students under 18 will also be required to sign the policy.
The department is planning a media campaign to inform parents of the specifics of the Internet policy. Stapleton said the department was also working to encourage increased parental knowledge of computers and their usage.
Department of Education personnel attending the meeting were Dr. Laren Larsen, deputy commissioner for curriculum and instruction; Joseph Philbert, DOE network administer; Virginia Stephens, library specialist; and Elaine Williams of JDL Technologies. JDL designs, implements, and manages school computer networks.
Federal law requires the acceptance of the Internet Acceptable Use policy, along with the installation of filters to block restricted sites, before funds can be used. The funds can be used for infrastructure only – wiring, cabling, to pay phone bills associated with Internet use, and Internet start-up costs. E-Rate funds cannot be used to purchase computers, videoconference equipment, or pay technicians.
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