Student surfing in cyberspace Howard County: School board should put aside fear of the Net and adopt report.

June 24, 1996

IT'S PERFECTLY understandable that Howard School Board member Sandra French and three of her colleagues raised a series of questions at a meeting last week about a plan to link county students to the Internet. Anyone who has cruised the World Wide Web knows there is reason for caution. Plenty of on-line sites haven't a sliver of educational value, and they fill the screen with nonsense that no child should ever see.

The school board would be unwise, however, if it were to reject the thrust of a thoughtful report by Richard Weisenhoff, the curriculum coordinator of the system's Office of Education Technology. The report seeks to connect all students to the Net while trying to protect them with a series of checks that would make misuse of this bountiful medium difficult and punitive.

Mr. Weisenhoff recommends that most classrooms have three computers capable of going on-line. Under his proposal, students would need signed permission slips from home before they would be able to use the Internet independently. Teachers, but not students, would have e-mail to send and receive messages to other computer users. And software would be created that would prevent students from peeking at inappropriate sites while teachers aren't looking and also record all the places a student has visited on-line. Knowing they very likely will get caught, few students would want to risk the loss of computer privileges by misusing the system.

Gov. Parris Glendening, whose administration has embraced computer technology, wants all state public schools online by the fall. That is when Mr. Weisenhoff is scheduled to bring an updated proposal to the school board. But his report doesn't need to be updated; rather, it's the attitudes of school board members that must be brought up to speed.

Although countless megabytes of mundane and inappropriate fare litter the information superhighway, there is a wealth of useful and current material that students should be able to access with the right guidance. The report presented to the school board does not need any drastic revisions. It is a solid plan that has found a way to open up endless educational possibilities for students while providing proper controls.

Pub Date: 6/24/96

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