A congressionally financed survey on online victimization found that young people ages 10 to 17 faced more unwanted exposure to sexual material and online harassment in 2005 than in 2000, while sexual solicitation edged downward over that period. In addition, a survey conducted by the organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids in 2006 found that more than one-third of American youths age 12 to 17 reported being victims of cyber bullying. (“Cyber Bullying,” Report Roundup, Aug. 30, 2006.)
SOURCE: Crimes Against Children Research Center, 2006
Despite the online risks facing students, the EPE Research Center’s 2007 state technology policy survey, conducted for Technology Counts 2007, found that only Virginia currently requires students to receive instruction on Internet safety. Legislation passed in 2006 requires school districts in Virginia to incorporate an Internet safety component into their acceptable Internet use policies and to integrate this component into the district’s instructional program. The state superintendent must issue guidelines to help districts meet this requirement.
California will soon be following suit. The state passed a similar law requiring districts to integrate instruction on Internet safety into their technology plans. District technology plans will have to address how teachers and students will be educated on a variety of issues, including the “appropriate and ethical use of information technology in the classroom, Internet safety, the manner in which to avoid committing plagiarism, the concept, purpose, and significance of a copyright so that pupils are equipped with the skills necessary to distinguish lawful from unlawful online downloading, and the implications of illegal peer-to-peer network file sharing.” (California Bill AB 307.) The state superintendent must develop guidelines by July 2007 to aid in this process.
Several states also address Internet safety issues through state technology standards that serve as guidelines for districts and schools to incorporate technology into the curriculum, although statewide instruction on those standards is often not required. For example, Alabama’s state technology standards recommend that high school students be able to identify unethical behaviors related to technology use, such as hacking and spreading viruses, explain the consequences of the misuse of technology, and evaluate the objectivity and accuracy of online information, among other skills. The Technology Applications curriculum in Texas highlights knowledge students in each grade span should demonstrate related to Internet safety. Texas middle school students are expected to be able to discuss issues such as copyright laws and the ethical use of electronic information, demonstrate proper online etiquette, and describe the consequences of copyright violations such as computer piracy and invasion of privacy.
In addition, the International Society for Technology in Education’s National Educational Technology Standards for Students, which many states have adopted or used when developing their own standards, include a component on the social, ethical, and human issues associated with technology. For example, one standard articulates that students should be able to “practice responsible use of technology systems, information, and software.”
Other state efforts to address Internet safety instruction include the provision of resources to help districts implement their own programs. For example, the Florida Department of Education and Office of Safe and Healthy Schools are partnering with iSAFE, a non-profit foundation that works with states to educate youth about Internet safety, to help districts implement a K-12 Internet safety education program. The Kentucky Department of Education works with the Kentucky Center for School Safety to offer training and resources to districts related to Internet safety. The school safety center recently partnered with the state attorney general to create a statewide Internet safety event, called i-Jam, which featured nationally-recognized speakers and workshops to address various issues.
Along with instruction on Internet safety, some states are working to implement policies to combat cyber bullying. eSchool News reported in February 2007 that three states—Rhode Island, Oregon, and Washington—were considering outlawing cyber bullying. The proposed Washington law would prohibit cyber bullying through school harassment policies. The Oregon law would require districts to adopt policies prohibiting cyber bullying.
Other states have developed policies addressing cyber bullying in some way. The state Senate in Arkansas recently passed a bill requiring districts to develop policies addressing cyber bullying. South Carolina currently requires districts to define bullying and spell out the consequences associated with it, including cyber bullying. Idaho has passed a law to prohibit student bullying and harassment and defined harassment as an act that could occur through data or computer software. The Utah State Board of Education recently added bullying into its discipline guideline policies for districts. This addition includes a definition of cyber bullying and a requirement that districts offer teachers and students training related to electronic aggression.
Cyber bullying has become a contentious issue, however, because it raises questions about free speech issues and how much authority a school has over a student’s behavior outside of class. Schools and districts are increasingly seeking guidance from states on how to deal with this issue and it’s clear that Internet safety education will factor into the equation.