Elaine Trull said the iPads the Eanes school district gives to students for on-campus and at-home use puts her in a tough spot as a parent. Her son is a sixth grader at Hill Country Middle School and he is not allowed to access YouTube on devices other than the family’s smart TV, which is in a common space in the house.
“My son brings home his school iPad, and has it up in his room for homework. And now as a parent, I am put in a position where my child has access to something we have restricted on personal devices at home, “she said.” Yet the school is saying he needs this device for his homework. “
Trull is among a group of parents who are pushing the district to further restrict what kids can see on their school iPads, either by limiting YouTube to only videos pre-approved by teachers or by switching to a video platform that only contains more limited educational content .
Parents with concerns about YouTube cite the possibility of students accessing inappropriate content, as well as of students being distracted by a variety of videos during the school day. District officials say the student iPads have a series of filters in place based on age to safeguard against mature content. Teachers use YouTube as an educational tool and have the ability to monitor student iPads via Apple Classroom, and staff have not expressed concerns about YouTube being misused in class, administrators say.
Concerns about content
District Chief Technology Officer Kristy Sailors said that Eanes has three web filters in place that govern incoming and outgoing traffic on student devices, including on YouTube. These filters limit content based on a range of categories including gaming, weapons and violence, security, and drugs and alcohol and smoking, Sailors said.
District iPads also have YouTube restricted mode turned on, which does not allow students to see suggested videos based on what they are watching or access the comments sections, among other limits.
Elementary schoolers have what the district calls “green iPads” with the most comprehensive restrictions in place. The green iPad setting was created in 2019 after a 6 year old viewed pornographic images on a school device.
“The filters that we have in place are in line with the area districts,” Sailors said. “We are in compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. … We are required by law to have web filters in place for obvious reasons. ”
For some parents, the filters do not feel sufficient. Trull said she has tested the filters on her son’s iPads and found them lacking.
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“I took my son’s iPad and searched some topics that I thought were inappropriate for a sixth grader, and I sent the board and the technology officer screenshots of what came up,” she said. However, I’m quite sure that’s not the case for every single student at school. More importantly, I feel like, benign or not, I do not want my son on YouTube at all during the school day. ”
Sailors said that parents who do not want their students to have access to YouTube on school devices have options. Parents can request to remove the altogether app, add parental controls to the existing filters, add screen time limits to the device, or ask for an older student to be given a green iPad.
Trull said she was confused about why it was an option to remove YouTube from her child’s iPad if the district is using it as an educational tool.
Sailors said that losing access to the app would require working with teachers to ensure that students have alternative methods of accessing content and conducting research when YouTube is being used in a class, but that teachers can do that if a parent feels strongly about the issue.
Concerns about distractions
Beyond fears about inappropriate content, some parents also worry about the distraction that YouTube poses during the school day.
Brooke Shannon, who has two middle school students and one elementary schooler, said she is nervous about this with her own kids. Shannon serves on the district’s Technology Advisory Committee and has been working as a substitute teacher during the pandemic. She said she has seen a lot of students using iPads for fun when they should have been focused on lessons and assignments.
“I’ve actually seen the situation play out in class where, at the middle school level, kids just hop on YouTube left and right because they can,” she said. “Most of them have those AirPods so they just put them in their ears and they can easily listen to a movie or a show or you name it, watch a sports game on their school iPads in the middle of class. And there’s really nothing as a teacher or a substitute teacher that you can do about it because you can ask them to get off but as soon as you turn your back, they’re back on it. ”
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Shannon said she has a lot of conversations with her own kids about how they use iPads in school, but that she worries that even students who are following the rules might be distracted by those who are not.
“They can not hop onto Netflix at school, or Hulu or normal streaming channels, but because YouTube is also used by teachers to show educational videos, they kind of have a blank check to watch all kinds of stuff,” she said. It’s confusing, I think, for the kids, because they do have access to it. And they need to use the need to make good choices. But that’s a lot to ask of a 12 or 13 year old. ”
Shannon said she feels it is unreasonable to expect teachers to manage student iPad use throughout the day and wants the district to step in and add additional limits to devices.
Sailors said she has not received any complaints from teachers that YouTube is difficult to manage. Teachers can use Apple Classroom to monitor student devices and they have the option to lock a student device, send kids messages directly on a device, and to see how devices are being used. Sailors said this system is not available to substitute teachers.
Superintendent Tom Leonard said that teachers have a number of classroom management tools available to them to manage student YouTube use.
“Teachers at any time with any technology, whether it be a calculator, whether it be their cell phone or whether it be their district-approved iPads, have the total ability and total right to tell a kid to put the technology away and our teachers do that, ”he said.“ We trust our teachers to utilize the tools we give them and allow the kids to utilize those tools when they are in class. ”
Leonard added that part of teaching kids to be responsible in a digital world is to use technology for things like research, which is part of how YouTube is used at the middle and high school level. He gave the example of students looking up clips from famous historical speeches to embed in slideshow presentations.
Shannon said she is dissatisfied with the district’s lack of action and does not feel individual solutions for the kids of concerned parents is good enough.
Leonard said that the district is always looking to improve wherever it can, but that YouTube and iPad use comes with a lot of benefits for instruction.
“It’s something the district had been paying attention to for multiple years,” he said. So that’s constantly being evaluated. I’ve always said it’s just the way the district is. We’re never, in my mind, in a steady state. Whether it’s with a football offense, or whether it’s with our use of technology, we’re always looking to get better. ”