Westlake parents urge schools to further restrict YouTube on iPads


Elaine Trull said the iPads the Eanes School District gives students for use on campus and at home put her in a tough spot as a parent. Her son is in sixth grade at Hill Country Middle School and he is not allowed to access YouTube on devices other than the family’s smart TV, which is in a common area of ​​the house.

“My son brings home his iPad from school and put it in his room to do his homework. And now, as a parent, I find myself in a position where my child has access to something that we have restricted on personal devices at home,” she said. “Still, the school says he needs this device for his homework.”

Trull is part of a group of parents who are pushing the district to further restrict what kids can see on their school iPads, either limiting YouTube to only videos pre-approved by teachers or moving to a video platform. which only contains more limited educational content. .

Parents concerned about YouTube cite the possibility of students accessing inappropriate content, as well as students being distracted by a variety of videos during the school day. District officials say student iPads have a series of age-based filters in place to protect against mature content. Teachers use YouTube as a teaching tool and have the ability to monitor student iPads through Apple Classroom, and staff have not expressed concerns about the misuse of YouTube in the classroom, administrators said.

Content Concerns

Kristy Sailors, the district’s chief technology officer, said Eanes has three web filters in place that govern incoming and outgoing traffic on student devices, including YouTube. These filters limit content based on a range of categories, including gaming, weapons and violence, safety, drugs, alcohol and smoking, Sailors said.

District iPads have also enabled YouTube’s Restricted Mode, which does not allow students to see suggested videos based on what they are watching or access comment sections, among other limitations.

Elementary students have what the district calls “green iPads” with the most comprehensive restrictions in place. The green iPad setting was created in 2019 after a 6-year-old viewed pornographic images on a school device.

“The filters we’ve put in place match neighborhoods in the area,” Sailors said. “We comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act, the Children’s Online Privacy Shield Rule and the Education Rights and Family Privacy Act. … We are required by law to implement web filters for obvious reasons.

For some parents, filters don’t seem to be enough. Trull said she tested the filters on her son’s iPads and found them lacking.

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“I took my son’s iPad and researched topics that I thought were inappropriate for a sixth-grader, and sent the council and the tech manager some screenshots of what’s going on. happened,” she said. “He is looking for very benign subjects. However, I am sure this is not the case for all students at school. More importantly, I feel, benign or otherwise, that I don’t want my son on YouTube at all during the school day. »

Sailors said parents who don’t want their students to have access to YouTube on school devices have options. Parents can ask to remove the app completely, add parental controls to existing filters, add screen time limits to the device, or ask an older student to get a green iPad.

Trull said she didn’t understand why it was possible to remove YouTube from her child’s iPad if the district was using it as an educational tool.

Sailors said losing access to the app would require working with teachers to ensure students have alternate methods of accessing content and searching when YouTube is used in a classroom, but teachers can do this if a parent is convinced of the problem.

Concerns about distractions

Beyond fears about inappropriate content, some parents also worry about the distraction YouTube poses during the school day.

Brooke Shannon, who has two middle schoolers and an elementary school student, said she was nervous about it with her own kids. Shannon serves on the district’s technology advisory committee and has worked as a substitute teacher during the pandemic. She said she’s seen a lot of students using iPads for fun when they should have been focusing on class and homework.

“I’ve actually seen the situation play out in the classroom where, at the middle school level, kids are just jumping around on YouTube left and right because they can,” she said. “Most of them have these AirPods, so they just put them in their ears and they can easily listen to a movie or a show or you call it, watch a sports game on their school iPad in the middle of class. And there’s really nothing as a teacher or substitute teacher that you can do about that because you can ask them to come down, but as soon as you turn your back on them, they do it again.

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Shannon said she had lots of conversations with her own kids about how they use iPads at school, but she worried that even students who play by the rules will be distracted by those who don’t. .

“They can’t access Netflix at school, or Hulu or normal streaming channels, but since YouTube is also used by teachers to show educational videos, they kind of have a blank check to watch all of them. kinds of things,” she said. “It’s confusing, I think, for the kids, because they have access to it. And they must use the need to make good choices. But that’s a lot to ask of a 12 or 13 year old.

Shannon said it’s unreasonable to expect teachers to manage students’ iPad usage throughout the day and wants the district to step in and add additional limits to the devices.

Sailors said she hadn’t received any complaints from teachers that YouTube was difficult to manage. Teachers can use Apple Classroom to monitor student devices, and they have the ability to lock a student device, message children directly on a device, and see how devices are being used. Sailors said this system is not available to substitute teachers.

Eanes Superintendent Tom Leonard presents the district's work to reconfigure its iPad program with a primary focus on the elementary level at a May 2019 council meeting.

Superintendent Tom Leonard said teachers have a number of classroom management tools to manage students’ use of YouTube.

“Teachers at all times with any technology, whether it’s a calculator, whether it’s their cell phone or whether it’s their district-approved iPads, have the full ability and the full right to tell a child to put away the technology and our teachers do that,” he said. “We trust our teachers to use the tools we give them and allow children to use those tools when they are in the classroom.”

Leonard added that part of teaching kids to be responsible in a digital world is to use technology for things like research, which is part of how YouTube is used at the middle and high school level. He gave the example of students looking for excerpts from famous historical speeches to incorporate into slideshow presentations.

Shannon said she was unhappy with the district’s lack of action and did not believe individual solutions for children of concerned parents were enough.

Leonard said the district is always looking to improve where it can, but there are many benefits to teaching using YouTube and the iPad.

“It’s something the district has been paying attention to for several years,” he said. “There are constantly new apps that are available and new websites, new resources for teachers that are available. It is therefore constantly evaluated. I’ve always said that’s how the neighborhood is. We are never, in my mind, in a stable state. Whether it is with a football offense or with our use of technology, we are always looking to improve.

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