A Tennessee school system has earned $7,000 for helping to promote a new technology designed to block offensive language from television programming.

In an agreement with Global Cable Inc. of Trenton, Ga., the Hamilton County Schools received 2,800 of the company’s ProtecTV devices to connect to classroom televisions. In return, school officials encouraged thousands of students to take fliers home to their parents advertising the product.

The school system also received $33 for each ProtectTV box sold during a two-month sales promotion that started in January.

The new electronic device—a hand-sized box selling for $79.95—selectively mutes words and phrases that television viewers might consider objectionable.

Besides blocking the obvious lexicon of four-letter curse words, the device mutes or edits from closed-captioning scripts words such as stupid, moron, cocaine, horny, intercourse, hell, and shut up.

Every time a word is spoken, it is compared to a dictionary of more than 400 offensive words and phrases. If the word matches, it is deleted from the soundtrack and captioning. The viewer will experience a momentary gap in the audio, and for viewers reading the captions the undesirable written word is replaced by XXXXs.

The boxes can be connected to a television, VCR, cable box, DVD player, or satellite TV system.

Global Cable Vice President Allan Ward said the company purchased worldwide rights to manufacture and sell ProtecTV last year after he saw it demonstrated at a cable product show in Toronto.

Diane LaPierre, a former forklift operator from Calgary, Alberta, developed and patented the technology after trying to use closed captioning to help teach her son to read.

Ward said he and Global Cable owner Jim Gee talked to a few people about using the technology to create ProtecTV “and everyone saw the value.”

“If you have ever sat down with one of your kids and watched an evening television show, a lot of times you end up answering a lot of questions that you don’t want to answer,” Ward said. “I have nothing against prime-time television, but it’s not for children.”

Ward and Gee approached Hamilton County school board member Marty Puryear about test-marketing the product through an agreement with the Chattanooga-area schools.

“It just seemed like something that would work. You are helping public education, and it gives you a chance to test market your product,” Puryear said.

The school board agreed. Ward sold about 225 devices. One satisfied customer was parent Rebekah Renfrow, who said her breaking point came when she watched an episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” with her four young children and heard a certain derogatory reference to women that made her cringe.

“I don’t want to be overprotective, but there is no need to have it coming in my house,” Renfrow said. “I really don’t want my kids hearing that kind of language.”

The Hamilton County school system actively promotes character education, district officials said, and ProtecTV helps reinforce the program’s goals.

“Most of the [television] programs that [teachers] show won’t have any bad language in them, but occasionally there will be a video that isn’t rated and profanity or nasty words will show up,” said Charles Joynes, principal of Clifton Hills Elementary. “I think it’s a wonderful tool. It shows students that we are serious, that we don’t want that language used.”

Besides supporting the district’s character-building initiatives, Joynes said, the ProtecTV devices will help shield the district from liability for unintentionally exposing students to objectionable language.

The technology “alleviates any problems we could have with parents if a kid goes home and says, ‘Guess what I heard today at school,'” Joynes said. “You could just imagine the problems we could have.”

Peter Magmuson, a spokesman for the National Association of Elementary School Principals, said he thought the ProtecTV devices would have more of a use at home than at school.

“Principals would be interested to know that the technology is out there, if nothing else, but to let parents know it’s available,” Magmuson said. He added: “We would hope that anything shown over the TV [in school] is previewed before it is shown.”

Links:

Hamilton County Schools
http://www.hcde.org

Global Cable Inc.
http://www.ProtecTV.com

National Association of Elementary School Principals
http://www.naesp.org