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Couple: Stronger filters needed

Objectionable material accessed via Web at school

The Internet filters currently in place are not strong enough to protect elementary students from accessing objectionable content, two parents told the Andalusia Board of Education last night.

The board’s meeting opened with a public hearing on its revised Acceptable Internet Use Policy. The policy addresses a number of areas, including filters, the system’s IT director, Gary Odom, explained.

“No filter will catch sex, nudity, violence and language 100 percent of the time,” he said, adding that some sites change their names but not their content daily in an attempt to bypass safety filters. It takes the filters about 72 hours to catch up, he said. The service is provided free of charge by the Alabama Supercomputer Authority.

But Hannah and Walt Merrell, who have two children in Andalusia Elementary School, said the filters aren’t strong enough, and asked the board to find better ones.

“I’m here to talk about elementary age kids,” Mrs. Merrell said. “Our elementary age kids are innocent children, in the most formative years of their lives, forming their values and morals and beliefs. It’s our duty as adults in the community and the school board to protect them.”

Mrs. Merrell provided a copy of a wikipedia entry about Tallulah Bankhead that included objectional content that was accessed via the Internet at AES and provided to one of her children this past year.

“This wasn’t just some random Joe Blow,” Mrs. Merrell said. “You see, Tallulah Bankhead is in our Alabama history book as someone to be proud of and look up to. That’s how my child had been studying about her.

She said the Internet content provided about Bankhead was “certainly contradictory to the values we had been trying to instill.”

“AES for a lot of kids in our community is the safest, most secure, most nurturing plae they go all day long,” she said. “It shouldn’t be that way, home should be. It is our responsibility to try to insure to the best of our ability that it is a safe place, and that there is moral fiber in our schools. They should not be exposed to content like this.”

She repeated several times that she and her husband had met with the teacher and they were satisfied with the response they got.

If the content had been in a book, she said, it never would have been allowed on the shelves of the library.

“How do we have the same standards for our Internet or online library for our kids to research,” she asked.

“I’ve looked over the acceptable use policy,” she said. “It says, ‘ACS makes a reasonable effort to insure safety and security online.’ I am appalled at that. How about we make an extraordinary effort?”

Mrs. Merrell said she personally does not own a computer and has never owned a cell phone.

“I know nothing about computer technology,” she said. “But I’d like to offer a challenge. I want somebody to go – I prefer one of you, but I will do it – to go and just see what you can get to through those filters.”

Watson expressed appreciation to the Merrells for the charge, and the board discussed the possibility of installing stronger filters at the elementary school.

Odom said there are any number of things the school system can pursue.

Walt Merrell told the board that if cost is an issue in getting a stronger filter, “Hannah and I will undertake to raise the money from private sources to pay for it.”

A copy of the proposed policy is available on The Star-News’ web site.