|To:|| Superintendents and Charter School Leaders|
|From: ||David P. Driscoll, Commissioner of Education|
Recently the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) published a document entitled "Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994-2001." The report indicates that in 2001 87% public schools had Internet access. In Massachusetts, the Department's annual report, "EdTech 2001", indicates that 88% of its classrooms were connected to the Internet.
The Internet continues to offer a wealth of resources for teaching and learning with students and teachers going online for research, international communication, information sharing, teleconferencing, and distance learning. However, because the Internet connects million of people all over the world, it presents safety issues that schools must address, such as the potential threat of inappropriate materials or persons who attempt to exploit children. For this reason the Massachusetts Department recommends that every district have an Acceptable Use Policy regarding Internet use. It is in one of the benchmark standards for local technology planning.
A new federal law, the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), provides guidelines for Internet safety. Under CIPA, schools must certify that they have an Internet safety policy and that they are using filtering technology. To be in compliance with CIPA, the Internet filter must block all visual descriptions that are obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors.
In order for these policies to be effective, students must know them. It is important for teachers to talk about these issues before they assign students to project that use the Internet or before students use the Internet. In Standard 2 of the Massachusetts Recommended PreK-12 Instructional Technology Standards, we state that students should be able to demonstrate responsible use of technology and an understanding of ethics and safety issues in using electronic media.
Recently the federal government has funded an Internet safety program called I-SAFE Safe School Education Initiative and Outreach Campaign. In the first year of the project, the curriculum for the program is focused on grades 5 - 8. I-SAFE provides students with the knowledge and skills that they need to independently identify inappropriate and compromising situations in Cyber space, to avoid or extract themselves from potentially dangerous situations, to seek help when threatened, and to exploit the positive aspects offered by the Internet. This program may help your students in understanding Internet safety issues. I urge you to visit the I-SAFE Safe School Education Initiative and Outreach Campaign web site at www.isafe.org to find out how to participate in this program.