Richmond Mom Accessed Explicit Content on School-Issued Virtual Learning Computer


Richmond Public Schools (RPS) has tightened content filtering restrictions on school computers after parent Janet Kelly discovered she could access explicit YouTube content on her elementary-aged son’s computer. Kelly is pleased that the school responded to her concerns, but she’s worried about long-term harms linked to having children in front of computers constantly for virtual learning.

“We are creating a generation of screen addicts but it doesn’t have to be that way. Many kids simply do not have the capability to draw healthy boundaries for themselves when it comes to addictive apps like YouTube,” Kelly said. “Sites that compete against learning should be replaced, time-restricted or rejected altogether. It’s hard enough for kids to learn online, we shouldn’t be feeding them an endless supply of the educational equivalent of cake and candy on the side.”

Kelly is the President of Virginia’s Kids Belong, a non-profit organization focused on solving the foster care crisis by working to create “A collaborative effort uniting faith,
business, and creative leaders with child welfare and government officials to ensure every child in Virginia is in a loving home,” according to its website.

Kelly is warning other parents of the risks through her website Safe Screens for Students, where she said that she became aware of how much time her son was spending on YouTube. After hearing of a rise in falling grades and mental health problems among students, she investigated her son’s computer usage. Although her son had not accessed explicit content, she found that she could  find nudity, racist content, and sexually explicit content on the school-issued computer.

The website states, “After numerous requests to her city’s school administrators to implement better solutions (teachers’ sharing screens, other platforms, stronger filters and/or time limits), she launched this petition.”

Delegate Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) criticized the district on Facebook. He wrote,As a former educator, I find it disheartening to see that RPS is not taking serious steps to mitigate the loophole in their firewalls to protect students from graphic and inappropriate content.

​Kelly said the district did eventually tighten their restrictions. RPS spokesperson Danielle Pearce told The Virginia Star that initially, YouTube content restrictions weren’t set at the most strict level, a move meant to allow teachers to use the platform in their classes.

“We have now increased our YouTube filters to the most restricted permissions. These are the same settings that are used in neighboring school divisions,” Pearce said. “In addition to filters on RPS devices, we also use Gaggle, an online safety management tool, that reviews student Google files to protect our students and ensure their safety and well-being in digital learning spaces.”

Pearce added that emails and files are reviewed for inappropriate content and sent to the division for review, giving the school and parents a chance to intervene. “We also have digital citizenship lessons that are provided periodically to students, and we encourage students, families, and staff to review our internet safety resources,” Pearce said.

Kelly said, “I’m grateful RPS strengthened their filter, especially right before the holidays when kids will be home with lots of downtime. There is more work to do to ensure kids are learning and not falling behind.”

On her website, Kelly tells parents not to trust that their schools have appropriate content filtering, and to be aware of the risks of addiction. “Significant amounts of time spent on screens, even if the content is age-appropriate, can pave the way for significant mental health challenges,” the website states.

Kids are outsmarting adults when it comes to virtual learning,” Kelly said. “This is a challenging time to be a parent, teacher or school administrator, but we can not allow our own busyness to prevent us from doing right by our kids.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network.  Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Janet Kelly” by Virginia’s Kids Belong and photo “At the Computer” is by Lars Plougmann CC2.0.





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