Southold students creating open Internet policy in schools

Three graduating Southold High seniors are recommending a major change in the district’s Internet use policy that could end restrictions on access to certain websites.

The three students — Blaise Linn, Ivy Croteau and MaryGrace Matthaei — have been meeting regularly with Superintendent David Gamberg to explore a “digital citizenship” policy similar to one that has been adopted in school districts from Boston to New Zealand and Japan.

Students are currently unable to access many websites they want to use for research, and they also can’t open personal email accounts or even educational files on Class Link.

“The current system is a hindrance to learning,” Mr. Linn told the school board.

Under a digital citizenship plan students would sign contracts agreeing to responsible use of an open Internet, which would include avoiding sites with potentially obscene content. They would also be expected to report any inappropriate information directed at them from outside sources. Additionally, the students would be taught lessons about respecting and protecting themselves on the Internet.

Ms. Matthaei said she believes that if Boston schools have implemented an open Internet policy for more than 50,000 students, Southold should be able to do the same.

Library media director Mira Dougherty-Johnson supported the students, saying she believes having open access to information is “the cornerstone of the educational system.” The Internet is a “powerful tool” and it makes no sense to put “caution tape” around it, Ms. Dougherty-Johnson said.

The work of the three outgoing seniors on the policy, which will be continued by a new team of students in the fall, impressed administrators.

“Their intellect and thoughtfulness impressed me to no end,” Mr. Gamberg said of the three team members. He credited them with giving up their own time to meet with him after school to explore the concept and the ways it’s being implemented in other school districts.

Board member Dr. John Crean credited the students with selflessness in working on a policy that won’t even benefit them, since it will be implemented after their graduation this month.

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