Online Safety Course Mandated for School Children in Virginia

Published June 1, 2008

Virginia has become the first state in the nation to implement mandatory “Internet safety” courses in its public schools.

Other states, including Illinois and Texas, have had similar, optional programs for public school students for some time, but Virginia is the first to mandate them.

Virginia’s implementation of a mandatory Internet safety curriculum comes two years after the state legislature passed House Bill 58 mandating its inclusion in the K-12 educational program.

The impetus for the law came from Delegate William Fralin (R-Roanoke), who told the Washington Post on April 2, 2006 he “wrote the bill after his oldest son turned 10 and started competing with his parents for computer time.”

Government Role Questioned

Some observers have expressed concern public schools are ill-equipped to handle the task.

“There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all ‘safety’ that applies in the same way to every child of every parent at all times,” said Tom Bowden, an analyst for the Ayn Rand Institute.

Bowden said parents should be more involved in their children’s safety without being lulled into a false sense of security by “blindly rely[ing] on the public schools to keep them safe.”

Bowden agrees there are countless pitfalls parents and children face on the Internet, including offline abuse and neglect, but he says, “that fact does not authorize government to shove parents aside and impose state control over children’s upbringing and education, in the form of government schooling.”

Legislation Trails Innovation

Gregory Smith, author of How to Protect Your Children: A Road Map for Parents and Teachers, said, “Legislation always lags innovation. I’d like to see schools and the PTA take a more active role and establish awareness and training sessions for parents.

“For me,” said Smith, “it’s really about educating the parents and arming them with the proper information about risks, giving them the right tools, and then tag-teaming that with education in the schools for the kids.”

Protecting children is the parents’ responsibility, said Bowden. “The risks posed by Internet predators are just one more danger that responsible parents must cope with,” he said.

Alternative Resources

Tammy McGraw, director of the Virginia Department of Education’s office of educational technology, said the schools are working to integrate Internet safety into existing coursework. The Commonwealth of Virginia is also partnering with outside groups and corporations in promoting Internet safety.

According to a news release from the state’s attorney general, the Entertainment Software Association and Web Wise Kids have been contracted to provide educational software to the state’s middle school classrooms. The software covers topics ranging from online romances to intellectual property rights, and it is available to parents and students to use at home.

James J Griffin ([email protected]) writes from San Diego, California.