After months of consideration, the Juneau School District has agreed to block four social networking sites on school property.
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Changes have been made to administrative regulations to allow blocking myspace.com, xanga.com, friendster.com and facebook.com, Superintendent Peggy Cowan said.
"In examining it we decided the social networking sites did not have any educational purpose. They were strictly social," Cowan said.
Users can create individual profiles, post photographs, "blog" and communicate with other users on these networking sites.
Parents Unite, a group created to deal with drug and alcohol use in the school district, worked to convince officials to ban the use of the social networking sites on campus. Kathi Collum, one of the group's founders, said Parents Unite took on this battle because it became apparent students were accessing the sites at school to discuss illicit behavior.
"Thinking that would be the easiest battle to take on, it has taken nine months now to get some kind of closure," she said.
Amy Deininger, another Parents Unite founder, said it was a tough decision, the kind that doesn't happen overnight.
"I'm proud of the district," she said. "I think they made a good decision. It's ultimately in everybody's best interest."
Deininger said the intent was not to limit students' enjoyment at school, but rather to have them focus on schoolwork while there.
"All along the agenda was the health and well-being of our kids. That's it straightforward," she said. "And I think that's why it ended up being a successful endeavor."
Aimy Villanueza, a district correspondence high school student who took a class at Juneau-Douglas High School last year, said the issue of social networking Web sites has been blown out of proportion.
"Personally, I think that the media itself is making it a big deal, but so are the high schoolers themselves," she said.
Villanueza said students have been "pissing and moaning" about limiting the access to the sites at school. She said there is a gray area when it comes to blocking access to the sites.
"In a sense I can see why they would, but in another sense there is a whole line between your education and your free time," she said.
Many students are just getting lazy and making too big of a deal out of having a profile on myspace.com rather than meeting people the old-fashioned way, Villanueza said.
"There's crossing that line between reality and cyberspace," she said.
Cowan said the four sites were selected to be blocked from school computers because they seem to be the ones that get the most traffic without having educational content.
"It seemed to be the ones that are the most popular and they are simply just networking sites," Cowan said.
The administrative regulations have been changed to make it possible to block other sites at school that do not have educational value. Cowan said the district will not be able to police all of the sites that might become popular so the district is working to include Internet safety education to the health curriculum to help safeguard students from risks involved with cyberspace.
"At this point we're responding to the parent concern and these very popular sites," she said. "We will never be ahead of all the sites, so we think the best thing is education."
"What we need to teach them now is how to use it and how to be safe," Collum said.
Jan Spiech, district data processing supervisor, said blocking these types of Web sites is new in the local schools.
"Our policy so far has been to not block anything but pornography, so it is unique to us," she said.
Spiech said the four sites will be blocked before school starts..
Collum said students have the right to access the social networking sites, but said there is a time and place for everything.
"It's just not appropriate for these kids to use these sites in school," Collum said. "Kids are in school to get an education."
Eric Morrison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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