Utah kids accessing explicit material on school databases, lawmakers urged to do more

Sep 17, 2020, 6:07 AM
explicit material...
Earle Foote, CEO of Nexus IT Consultants, says to improve internet safety, parents need to be involved in their children's online activity. (Stock Photo)
(Stock Photo)

SALT LAKE CITY – Children are accessing explicit material on school databases, and Utah lawmakers are trying to solve the problem. 

The databases, like the Utah Education Network (UEN), are supposed to be private portals for students to do online searches safely. 

But Utah Empowered Families Coalition President, Nicholeen Peck, told lawmakers on Wednesday that material can be uploaded onto the database with no safeguards, as traditional internet filters are of no use on private networks. 

“If [kids] go through a database, the filters do not filter anything in the database. They can’t,” explained Peck. “So, the material makes it directly back to the child without stopping at a school filter.”   

Michelle Boulter, who sits on the Utah State School Board, is also concerned. 

“We are selling the [Utah Education Network] as a safe place for children to do their research, and it’s providing a false sense of security,” Boulter said. 

The concerns on explicit material 

It’s not only explicit images, which have been seen by kids as young as six. Parents are also reporting links to adult sites and inappropriate stories. Additionally, some worry predators can reach children through the portal.  

And there are more concerns as many students are using personal computers and devices, as some districts are holding classes online.

It’s unclear who or how many people have uploaded explicit content to the portals.  

This isn’t the first time databases like UEN have been accused of having explicit content or links to adult material. A few years ago, UEN was temporarily suspended for the same issue.

Tooele Education Association President, Robert Gowans, said it can be difficult for schools to find and fix the problems. 

“With their limited resources, they cannot handle the barrage of material that’s being sent through databases,” Gowans said.  

The Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to study a solution. Some ideas floated during the meeting included increasing penalties for the database companies or dumping the databases altogether and switching to regular search engines with strong filters.  

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Utah kids accessing explicit material on school databases, lawmakers urged to do more