school security

First-Grader Accessed Inappropriate Content on School Device

District’s security firm said incident likely caused by “human error”

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Apple iPads and Google Chromebooks are quickly replacing textbooks in classrooms, but with technology-based learning comes concern of how school districts are securing these devices.

Gabrielle Campbell of Griffith, Indiana, said she learned that the hard way.

Campbell has two daughters – a kindergartener and first grader – who were enrolled in Griffith Public Schools. Both had district-issued take home iPads required for their classroom learning.

“They don’t have access to devices like iPads and tablets (at home),” Campbell said. “They only have it from their school. I make sure I monitor those things and let them know what they should and shouldn’t look at.”

Last month during one of her routine device checks, Campbell said she found inappropriate videos her 7-year-old daughter recorded of herself on her school iPad.

“(I felt) a mixture of confusion, a whole lot of rage and disappointment,” Campbell said. “Who did you learn this from? Where did you see this take place at? Who told you how to do it?”

Campbell said her daughter told her she and two classmates searched the word “love” on her school-issued iPad on school grounds. Campbell said what popped up was pornographic images and videos.

“She told me she watches the videos on her iPad during second recess either in her classroom or in the gym,” Campbell said. “When I look at what she’s been watching on YouTube on a school-issued device, you’re able to see that? Even at the school?... Once you have been exposed to something, and then you don’t have the cognitive ability to process and put all that stuff you’re seeing together, it’s traumatic for her.”

Campbell said she is furious with the Griffith School District’s response to her concerns. She said she demanded a thorough investigation on how students accessed these videos and a full sweep of all the students’ devices. She claims the district did not follow through.

The Griffith School District superintendent refused to answer many of NBC 5 Investigates’ questions on the record, citing privacy and an ongoing investigation.

“(The Griffith School District) made it like my daughter has a problem, that my daughter created the problem. That’s unacceptable because my daughter is 7. There is no way that a 7-year-old in a school corporation’s care should be able to access that,” Campbell said.

Campbell said the issue is even more personal for her because she herself is an educator. She is an 8th grade teacher at a neighboring northwest Indiana school district, where she oversees her building’s education technology. Campbell said it is possible to secure these devices to protect students.

Campbell searched “love” on YouTube on a Chromebook issued by her district, where the search results were drastically different to her daughter’s iPad. NBC 5 Investigates also examined another iPad issued by the Griffith School District, where the same search on YouTube yielded inappropriate videos.

“The first thing you’ll notice (on my district’s device) is that it says ‘some search results are hidden because restricted mode is turned on,’” Campbell said.

While the Griffith School District did not answer specific questions about this incident, when pressed, the district did answer a few broader questions about its technology program. The district said it has invested in software called Securly to filter inappropriate content and to alert administration of questionable searches.

Securly is regarded among advocates as one of the best monitoring software products available to schools. When NBC 5 Investigates asked the superintendent if Securly’s safety controls, such as “YouTube Restricted Mode” and “Safe Search Mode,” were enabled on student devices, she did not respond.

NBC 5 Investigates reached out directly to Securly with Campbell’s concerns. Co-founder and CEO Vinay Mahadik responded immediately.

“Upon researching this case, we discovered that the district may have a misconfiguration – most likely due to an inadvertent human error – that left YouTube wide open,” Mahadik said in an email. “We have already reached out to the district to advise them on how to properly configure these settings and ensure students are unable to access inappropriate content on YouTube.”

Mahadik also said Securly will work on building automation on its end to catch issues like this moving forward.

NBC 5 Investigates again reached out to the Griffith School District superintendent to ask if the misconfiguration has been fixed. She did not respond.

“It’s the school’s device. It’s the school’s responsibility to make it safe for kids,” said Rick Wistocki, a retired Naperville Police Detective who specialized in cyber crimes against children.

Wistocki said parents must also be involved in their children’s school devices and demand that districts provide information on how they are securing them.

“It takes a village when it comes to keep our kids safe when they’re online,” Wistocki said.

For Campbell, she said it’s too late for her daughter and her family.

“My daughter has lost her innocence and that’s something that no one can give her back,” Campbell said.

She has since withdrawn her two daughters from Griffith Public Schools. Campbell said she is sharing her story to warn other parents.

“Who’s to say how many other students at such a tender age are able to view things like that?”

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