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Schools Could Be Liable For Internet Misuse

Schools Told They Could Be Liable If Students Or Staff Misuse The Internet

Schools are being warned to have robust internet polices to avoid being at the centre of legal action over students or staff accessing material such as hardcore porn.

Internet Safety Group President Liz Butterfield says internet use in schools can potentially become a liability issue if schools are not seen to be working to create a safe environment for students. While there are no reported legal cases in New Zealand, there has been one in Australia.

“Schools are legally obligated to make the provision of a safe learning environment a top priority and that now applies to internet use. If a school offers internet access and has no policy or use agreements and something goes wrong, such as a child being exposed to extreme pornography, then a school may be in a vulnerable position.

“I would think a parent whose child is traumatised by something they have seen on the net at school could take legal action against the school if it was proven that the responsibility of protecting the children had not been taken seriously.”

Liz Butterfield will be delivering this message to trustees at the annual New Zealand School Trustees Association conference being held in Invercargill from July 5 to 8.

Liz Butterfield says there are no guarantees that students won’t still attempt to access undesirable material, however by following the recommendations of the Internet Safety Kit schools are showing a commitment to providing a safe environment.

The kit was sent to every school in the country in March 2000 and was produced by the Internet Safety Group, with sponsorship from the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services, the Ministry of Education and the New Zealand Police.

“If a school has put in place all the documents and procedures the kit talks about, then the board and the principal have done the best they can do. Things can still happen but it is about being able to demonstrate that the school is endeavouring to create a safe internet environment and I think that is all parents or anyone could expect of a school.”

She says the internet is a fantastic resource, but it is important that it is used properly.

“We need to understand what the internet environment is about and put in place the education and those common sense realistic type of structures which will enable us to use it safely. Let’s put in place the things like an internet use policy, use agreements for students and staff, and a protocol to follow. If there is a problem the school is then prepared. In the meantime the students are enjoying this educational tool in a safe way.”

She says schools can also play a valuable role in educating parents on how they can monitor their children’s internet use.

“It is a funny situation where the kids are much more adept with the technology than the adults. Parents need to get over being intimidated about that and just know that you don’t have to be an expert on the Internet to be an effective monitor. Schools can also show them the skills they need to check the history of the use. Schools can be a powerful resource for parents.”

[ends]


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