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    Joe e-mailed to ask whether I’d heard about this story from the Lehigh Valley, where I grew up and he has a lot of relatives. I had not. Now that I have, I’m appalled:

    KUTZTOWN, Pennsylvania — They’re being called the Kutztown 13 — a group of high schoolers charged with felonies for bypassing security with school-issued laptops, downloading forbidden internet goodies and using monitoring software to spy on district administrators.

    The students, their families and outraged supporters say authorities are overreacting, punishing the kids not for any heinous behavior — no malicious acts are alleged — but rather because they outsmarted the district’s technology workers.

    In Pennsylvania alone, more than a dozen school districts have reported student misuse of computers to police, and in some cases students have been expelled, according to Jeffrey Tucker, a lawyer for the district.

    The students “fully knew it was wrong and they kept doing it,” Tucker said. “Parents thought we should reward them for being creative. We don’t accept that.”

    A hearing is set for Aug. 24 in Berks County juvenile court, where the 13 have been charged with computer trespass, an offense state law defines as altering computer data, programs or software without permission.

    “Reward them for being creative”? I know that a lot of hard-working school administrators have to deal with parents who are lax disciplinarians and make every excuse imaginable not to find fault with their own little snoogums, but that didn’t ring very true to me. (The felony the kids are charged with, BTW, is computer trespassing.) There’s a website to support the thirteen students who are being charged, and on its comments board, the parents of a few of them have posted. There are a lot of questions raised: information and support to the parents about the laptop program was slack from the beginning, parents were not alerted that the district considered their children’s conduct serious infractions, and the students who have been charged may have been selected because their parents don’t have connections. Of course, none of this is corroborated–I’m only going by what’s posted there.

    Looking for reasons to sympathize with the school district requires major effort, though, because the facts that do appear undisputed make it look like a warren of dumb bunnies:

    The computers were loaded with a filtering program that limited internet access. They also had software that let administrators see what students were viewing on their screens.

    But those barriers proved easily surmountable: The administrative password that allowed students to reconfigure computers and obtain unrestricted internet access was easy to obtain. A shortened version of the school’s street address, the password was taped to the backs of the computers.

    The password got passed around and students began downloading such forbidden programs as the popular iChat instant-messaging tool.

    The students were clearly breaking rules and deserve punishment. It does seem reasonable to expect, though, that administrators help encourage students in the direction of obedience by not making the rules ridiculously easy to break. Of course, if they don’t know how computers work, that may be hard to manage. Maybe sticking to programs that they themselves understand would have helped.

    2 Responses to “Hexed”

    1. Connie says:

      Arg. Arg. Arg.

      The Lord of the Flies Technology.

      Kids are sociopaths without guidance and supervision. That’s why they aren’t allowed out unsupervised, but for some strange reason people believe that a computer isn’t “out.” Most of these people couldn’t set the time on their VCR, let alone deal with the difficulties of technology with kids.

      Parents who do not know how to operate a computer, sufficient to know EVERYTHING a kid is doing with one, should not have them in their homes.

      When kids were still in public school they sent home a permission slip for Wendy to get Internet access (supposedly intra-net, not inter-net) and a school email address. Being the pain that Wendy always says I am, I wrote back to the school, asking them a few questions:

      -What kind of firewall were they using (at the central level, not on the machines)

      -How were they protecting the database of email addresses to prevent some cyber stalker from getting access to them.

      They ignored my questions so I ignored their form. More kept coming home. Trash bin.

      Finally, the “computer teacher” (who used to be the AV lady) asked me to come in. She still couldn’t answer my questions–had no fricken clue. “All the other parents signed the forms.”

      Never signed it. Poor, poor Wendy. Boo-f-ing-hoo.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      Like you, I figured one of the qualifications for supervising teenagers was being less dumb than they are. I do sympathize with parents who don’t have the time to keep up with every little advance in technology, but that doesn’t excuse the people who (1) are paid to oversee IT for a school district and (2) make mistakes that people have known to avoid for a decade.

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