by: Natasha Chen Updated:
The Kent School District has a high-tech monitoring system that can track Internet activity from any user on its Wi-Fi network, a tool that has helped find the sources of online bullying or bomb threats.
Those who sign onto school Wi-Fi networks first agree to terms of service, letting them know that no student or staff member can assume privacy when they’re online.
Other school districts in the area told KIRO 7 they can only monitor Internet usage on school devices, while Kent schools are able to see activity even on personal devices using their network.
“It’s a publicly owned item. It’s akin to a book in our library,” said Chris Loftis, a district spokesman.
Students, staff, and even guests who log onto the Kent School District Wi-Fi will come across terms of agreement, stating that their activity will be tracked and not to expect any privacy.
“No apologies. We’re here to protect children,” Loftis said.
He said they are not reading every email or following every post, but the system is scanning for certain words and signs of trouble.
Last March, someone emailed a bomb threat to Kentwood High School. Within 20 minutes, they were able to trace where the person lived in Eastern Washington.
District officials are looking at tweets sent by anyone on or near school property, even those sent on cellphone data networks and not on the school’s Wi-Fi.
They have been able to see who’s talking about a fight happening after school, or who’s making bullying comments.
All students from 7th to 12th grade are issued school laptops with login IDs. Parent Shelly Mesa said at first she was bothered by not knowing what her son was doing on the laptop all the time.
But then, she saw alerts from the school.
“The school would email me and say he's been on Facebook when he's not supposed to. So I think that's a great thing,” Mesa said.
A student who attended Kent-Meridian High School last year, Ridwan Ibrahim, said she’s fine with following school rules about the Internet.
But she sees many people getting around it.
“Most people use proxies and stuff like that on their laptops,” Ibrahim said.
School staff said that while sometimes someone can slip by, the students who use proxies tend to repeat that behavior.
They can see who is trying to skirt the network and identify anyone who has been attempting to do so multiple times.
The technology used to monitor Internet use costs the district $72,000 per year.
The money for student laptops comes from a voter-approved technology levy that provides $5 million a year for that purpose.