One Sugar Grove dad said he thought his daughter was doing homework. What he found her doing instead was horrifying.
The father, who did not want to be identified, said his sixth grader was having inappropriate conversations and sending photos to a classmate through a video chat enabled through a school-issued Google Classroom account.
The program at Kaneland Harter Middle School gave students access to Google Hangouts, a video chatroom feature.
“There is no reason for students to have this,” said the Sugar Grove dad. “There is a potential for a lot of bad things. There are no safeguards on technology.”
Cynthia Phelan said she assumed school accounts were safe for her children. But she said she found her 6th grader circumventing the strict parental controls set on her Mac computer by using her Google account. A search of the student’s browsing history turned up inappropriate, pornographic content, Phelan said.
“They’re too young to get exposed to this,” Phelan said.
School districts across Chicagoland are balancing the educational benefits of the Internet, while also protecting children from accessing graphic material. Kids operate under stringent content filtering on school grounds, but most schools simply can’t monitor and filter information when the student goes home.
Schools, however, can make some changes.
Brian Faulkner, principal at Kaneland Harter Middle School, said officials disabled the video chat capabilities in Google Classroom, following the incident in Sugar Grove.
“We didn’t, at this time, think there was an educational value to it,” Faulkner said. “It was an isolated situation where inappropriate behavior was being displayed between two students.”
Faulkner said the two students involved received “support services.” He said Kaneland and other school districts are also trying to focus on educating students about proper behavior in a digital world. At Kaneland, local judges will often give talks to students to prevent inappropriate online conduct.
“Technology isn't going away,” Faulkner said. “It's only going to improve over time so let's teach our kids how to use it the right way.”
Parents interviewed by NBC 5 Investigates said they understood schools can’t watch students’ every move, but they said they would have appreciated notification of all the applications that their kids have access to.
“It would have been very important for them to tell parents up front that your children have access to these particular sites and there may not be parental controls in place or your kids will have access to these sites and these are how you can implement parental controls,” Phelan said.
In Phelan’s case, device restrictions placed on her Apple device are designed primarily for integration with Apple’s web browser, Safari, and do not fully extend to other browsers, according to a Google spokesperson.
“If parents choose to let their kids use Chrome, we recommend enabling restrictions for websites using iOS and enabling SafeSearch manually in Chrome, which helps block explicit images, videos, and websites from Google Search results. We’re always looking into ways to improve our services and hope to provide more options to our users in the future.”
In terms of safety controls, an Apple spokeswoman touted Family Sharing, which allows parents to create Apple IDs for their children that are subject to parental supervision to share purchases, photos, and more. Apple also sent us links to parental controls on its operating system and Macs.
Parents could also take it a step further and use third-party applications, such as TeenSafe or KidGuard, that parents can download to remotely see what kids are posting, sharing and texting.