Thursday, June 07, 2007

Malware leads to conviction of substitute teacher

USA Today on June 7, 2007 reported that middle school teacher Julie Amero will get a new trial in Norwich, CT on a case where she had been convicted in January 2007 on endangering the welfare of students when, in October 2004, the computer in her classroom served up pornographic popups after several kids surfed to a site about hair styles. Journalists have discovered that the school system did not have effective firewalls or popup controls on their computers and were not blocking ineffective sites. Apparently the site in question was associated with spam and (from a school system point of view) socially objectionable products. "Security Fix: Brian Krebs on Computer Security" has a major blog analysis in The Washington Post, “Substitute Teacher Faces Jail Time over Spyware,” Jan. 25, 2007, here.

It is amazing to me that a teacher (regular or substitute) would be held responsible for web content delivered by malware because of lack of proper system security, that is relatively easy to install now (such as McAfee Site Advisor, discussed here). Furthermore, she was a substitute. I’m not sure of the situation in Connecticut, but in many states substitutes do not have to be licensed, and often take one-day short term assignments where they do not know the classroom well. This case points out a flaw in the way substitutes are hired and managed. The classroom management skills expected of substitutes have been a matter of controversy in many states. According to the story, other teachers did not come to the aid of the substitute, and short-term substitutes may not be perceived by kids as morally legitimate authority figures, and may not obey (like discontinue inappropriate surfing) when told. In practice, it is often very difficult to prevent kids from surfing to inappropriate sites, and school districts are well advised to block sites with strict filters (Fairfax County, VA, for instances, blocs MySpace, and many other sites considered to have content objectionable for a public school environment).

Even if acquitted on retrial (that sounds likely given more modern awareness of spyware and popups), the substitute may have enormous personal financial losses from this work experience. This is not good for substitute programs.

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