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Pennsbury Could Have Blocked Child Porn on School Internet, Memo Shows

A now-suspended Pennsbury School District music teacher was charged with possessing child pornography this week. Bucks County detectives found more than 2,000 images and videos on his cellphone, and records indicate he accessed that data using the county school system’s internet connection.

But the district could have blocked that access if it had followed the advice of a legal memo from its solicitor, Mark W. Cheramie Walz, on May 31, 2022.

The memo obtained by DVJournal recommended the purchase of a filtering system for employees’ computers and cellphones that would block pornography.

It states: “The Children’s Internet Protection Act (‘CIPA’) requires E-Rate recipients to make annual certifications that it has adopted an internet safety policy that includes ‘technology protection measures.’ These technology protection measures must block or filter internet access to pictures that are obscene, are child pornography, or that are harmful to minors (for devices accessed by minors).”

Pennsbury is an E-Rate recipient.

“The FCC and USAC (which administers the E-Rate program) have taken the position that these technology protection measures be active on all computers, including staff computers,” the memo said. “In recent regulatory comments, the FCC has also taken the position recently that these technology protection measures must filter District owned devices regardless of location – so that student devices are filtered both at home and school (even if the student is on his/her own internet connection at home).

“Given the FCC’s position on this, we recommend that E-Rate recipients utilize pornography filters on all District and/or IU-owned computers both on or off campus. This filtering does not need to go beyond blocking pornography.”

The memo continues, “But what about mobile devices? The FCC and the CIPA law do not distinguish between mobile devices, tablets, and other computers. Rather, the law requires that you have the policy in place and that the policy includes the use of technology protection measures.

“Although the FCC has not addressed this issue directly, we believe it to be a fair interpretation of the law to apply the filtering requirement to school district and IU mobile devices and not to limit the requirement only to traditional ‘computers.’ There is no doubt the law is ambiguous here, but there is little doubt the safer course of action is to filter these devices for pornography,” the memo said.

Parent Tim Daly spoke at the Thursday night board meeting about the music teacher’s arrest.

“I want to express my disappointment in the people in front of me, both board members and administration staff, for your failures to govern our school district and protect our children when they are in your care,” said Daly. “While I can’t hold you accountable for the acts of a self-described ‘sick human being’ who was watching child porn on premises in the middle of a school day, I can hold you accountable for not proactively taking the preventive actions that allowed for a gaping hole in network security that enabled a staff member to access the dark web.

“In your hands, I have provided an email received from a whistleblower, drafted by the law firm Sweet Stevens Katz & Williams. Some of you here received and read this email back on May 31, 2022. But for others this is likely the first time you are seeing this. In this email, attorney Mark Walz advised Bucks County school districts of their compliance obligations associated with taking federal funding under the E-Rate program. In the email, he instructs the schools on their legal obligations to expand network monitoring to all staff members to prevent situations such as those that have transpired this week, resulting in the arrest of a pedophile…or for some of you on this board you might refer to him as a ‘minor attracted person’ given your radical political views.

“This email was sent to Pennsbury over 18 months ago, and it appears that Pennsbury defied the legal advisement. How could this have happened? How could you have let this slip through the cracks when your law firm told you to get in compliance?”

Daly called on the board to suspend the superintendent, investigate and for any board members who knew about the memo to step down.

Several other parents also expressed their angst about the teacher’s arrest.

“How in the hell did this band teacher make it into this school with the serious, serious, obvious problems he has?” asked Andrew Dell. “Do you guys have no computer control? You see what’s going on when there’s something pornographic?”

James Grimm said he learned from the IT director a couple of years ago the district had been economizing in the information technology department.

“Now, through this abhorrent situation with this teacher… do we have content filtering?” Grimm asked. If he tried to log onto pornography at his own job, his computer would shut down, and he would be in the human resources department in five minutes. He might lose his job or would be in sensitivity training.

He said there was a “systematic failure” in the IT department and called for the director to be fired.

Aaron Mackey, husband of school board president Dr. Joanna Steele, praised the district’s handling of the situation and its response to the parents and students in the music department.

When DVJournal asked about the memo, Jennifer Neill, communications director, said, “The district employs industry-standard filters and firewalls which are comprehensive and in wide use in the field of education. Devices, whether personal or district-owned, cannot access inappropriate websites while on the district’s network.”

However, the original guidance from Sweet Stevens Katz & Williams recommended filtering both students’ and staff’s devices while on or off campus.

New Bill Would Protect Children From Porn on Mobile Devices

With many parents allowing their young children to play with mobile devices, exposure to pornography lurking via those devices has become a problem.

Enter state Rep. Jim Gregory (R-Blair).

Gregory’s legislation, House Bill 1501, would ensure children are protected from accessing pornography on mobile devices.

“While we certainly should be concerned about children having access to inappropriate sexual content and pornography in the school setting, we must also be diligent to ensure children cannot access the same material on mobile devices outside of the school setting,” Gregory said. “When children are exposed to explicit sexual content at an early age, either by accident or indoctrination, it has a significantly negative impact on their future development and ability to have a successful outcome. It is imperative we protect our children.”

Gregory’s legislation, the “Protection of Minors from Unfiltered Devices Act,” would require new smartphones and tablets activated in the commonwealth to have a filter enabled that would protect children from finding harmful material online, such as pornography.

This technology already exists and can be easily placed on devices. The filters can also be disabled by adults, meaning requiring activation of filters at purchase will not prevent adults from accessing anything on their phone or tablet.

Rep. Kristin Marcell (R-Richboro) is a co-sponsor.

“Safeguarding kids from internet pornography is an important step in promoting their healthy development, ensuring their safety, and helping them navigate the digital world responsibly,” Marcell said. “We must do everything we can to protect them.”

Rep. Craig Staats (R-Quakertown), who is also sponsoring the bill, said, “The moment I saw this bill, I knew I had to be a co-sponsor. We see stories every week about how pornography negatively affects children and leads to physical, psychological, and social issues. The fact is it’s too easy for children to accidentally stumble onto pornography on the internet, and can lead to a serious addiction. This bill would be a huge step in protecting children from pornography and protecting their mental health.”

In addition, support for protecting children from internet pornography was the subject of a recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial.

“Studies — and the everyday experience of anyone who works with today’s teenagers — show that early exposure to pornography is associated with regressive attitudes toward gender roles; early sexual experimentation and aggression; poorer mental health; and dangerously unrealistic views of sex and sexuality,” the newspaper’s editorial board wrote.

Other states, including Louisana, Arkansas, Montana, Mississippi, Utah, Virginia, and Texas, have passed similar laws; the paper noted 16 others have introduced bills.

However,  Mike Lake, a Radnor dad with daughters ages 13 and 15, does not believe this bill is the right solution.

“While the bill’s authors have good intentions, the phone must ultimately be activated by an adult able to enter into a contract,” said Lake. “The bill places a burden on the manufacturer to support a patchwork of state laws. Ultimately, it is the job of the parent or legal guardian to ensure a suitable and already available filter is in place, and not the role of the commonwealth,” said Lake.

“Furthermore, I wish state legislators would first take a close look at the pornography available and promoted to minors in public school libraries before considering filters on personal devices,” he added.

Gregory said, “Ensuring children are protected from exposure to pornography should not be a partisan issue. I hope more colleagues from both sides of the aisle will join my effort to ensure children can be children and be protected from this explicit content.”

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