The conviction in January of Connecticut substitute teacher Julie Amero for exposing students to online pornography during class has caused a firestorm of response from eSchool News readers. For complete coverage of the case, click here: Pop-up porn sinks school substitute. Here’s a sampling of reader responses; if you would like to contribute, please eMail us at: info@eschoolnews.com

Anyone who uses a computer regularly knows that it is possible to get caught in the “pop-up” tidal wave. I believe that this teacher is the victim of the marketing that isn’t regulated on the internet. When one clicks the add off, that is what triggers the other adds to appear. The next thing you know, you are caught in this cycle of “pop-up” nightmare.

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From what I’ve read, I believe that Ms. Amero was wrongfully convicted.

I know what it takes to prevent pop-ups. I learned what to do because I have computers in my home and I have three children. If Ms. Amero did not have a computer and/or hadn’t learned about spyware and adware and how to prevent it, the situation could easily have happened. She was probably so shocked by the images that she didn’t think to “throw a coat over the monitor” as someone in the article suggested. And, there was no way that she could have anticipated that the pictures would keep popping up. I believe the teacher is innocent and the school district is wrong.

Any school district that has computers in the classroom should have all those computers protected with the latest anti-virus software and anti-spyware programs. And, the school district should also be responsible to teach [its] teachers and the substitutes about computers, at least the basics, to prevent these types of things from happening.

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While I think the substitute was poorly trained on how to handle her workstation’s security, I believe [her] story about the pop-up ads spontaneously generating. I personally witnessed this happening to a student at my school, and we did a detailed report (we run BOSS in the background on all workstations) on how it got there. This particular web site that the student visited was innocent; [the report showed] that the search was for a subject like history. Unfortunately, the student chose to click on a link to a web site that loaded a browser hijack, resetting the home page, and popping up miniaturized web pages at the rate of about twenty within ten seconds. These ads were impossible to stop, and scared the student to the point that she alerted the teacher, who in turn called me. I unplugged the computer and removed it from the classroom, so that no other students would be exposed to it. Once the web site had been accessed, it was programmed to make this happen without further user input. That is why I believe this sub may have been telling the truth. Should it have ever happened? In my opinion, no. The students should not have been allowed to use the teacher computer without supervision. The sub should have been instructed how to lock the workstation when she stepped away, which would have removed the opportunity for exploration. Some may ask why a filter didn’t catch these ads. My district uses one of the better known filter systems on the market, and it got through. A filter can only catch web sites that it knows about, and thousands pop up every day. Do I think the substitute should be disciplined in any way for allowing students to see the images? Probably. The monitor has a power button, and it could have been turned off, without going against instructions to keep [the computer] turned on. The first call should have been to the campus computer specialist and/or security. Not only would this have protected the sub against disciplinary action, but it would have increased the odds that any responsible person would have been discovered. Again, probably a training issue, and if it is a first offense, a simple note in the HR file should be appropriate. While I think this was entirely avoidable, unless the sub has a previous history of any such behavior, I cannot see charging her criminally, and [she] quite possibly may have recourse for wrongful termination against the school district. If the sub can prove that it was the “luck of the draw” that the ads popped up while she was logged in, that would place the blame for the students seeing it upon the district and not the individual user. ***********

While it’s “plausible” that these sites started popping up without prompting, her choice was, expose the students to the porn or explain why she had turned off the computer. I think her explanation might have been enough, but even if it wasn’t, she wouldn’t be “possibly going to jail” for turning off a computer. It does make sense that an organization might ask that the computers not be turned off. If the organization is taking great care of [its] system and doing daily updates remotely, those updates won’t happen if the machine is off.

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This has absolutely happened to me! I have had many computers that did not have adequate anti-spyware programs and pop-up blockers that stopped the unwanted intrusions. Those types of invasive software programs need to be continually updated, as the porn infiltrators continually update theirs to find ways around the blocks! She should NEVER have anything more happen to her! This was tragic. I have been teaching and become unsure of what to do next in a situation. Normally, I would have gone to ask someone, but she could not in this case. I can totally relate to being so shocked that I reacted slowly, unsure as to what to do next! I cannot believe that this is happening to her and already wrote to the school. … She should be compensated by the school for damages!

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Poor teacher. This is an IT problem and a district problem. They have the wrong person on trial. Safegards should have already been in place … I guess someone has to take the fall, right? ***********

It is interesting to note that a school district as large as Norwich, Connecticut, would not have “IN-HOUSE” firewall protection. Entire districts, not just individual computers, should and can be firewalled from within the district firewall. Our school district maintains its own firewall and it is very strong. THE DISTRICT WAS AT FAULT. School districts also have the responsibility of educating substitute teachers, most of whom are not qualified to teach and manage classrooms, and just barely make it past high school. Substitutes, if given access to computers in the classroom, must sign the same computer usage agreement that all teachers sign and abide with. However, it is best not to allow substitutes to have any access to computers in the classroom or anywhere else in the school. THE SUBSTITUTE WAS AT FAULT. Students often get into web sites that have links to inappropriate sites. The substitute is responsible if, when first seeing this type of content, she did not do the following: (1) turn off the monitor, (2) call tech support and/or administrative personnel immediately. Our firewalled district network blocks so much content that at times we are unable to get to some sites that are educational, because of words such as “body,” “female,” “Nazi,” “breast cancer,” etc. Only approved sites to research are open to students and teachers. One incident we experienced in our school was a laptop taken home and used by a teacher and returned, and attached to our network. The web sites accessed at his home were not approved at the school level. He could not access them at school, but the history remained on the computer. Viruses invaded the school and district system (noted at the district level) and were immediately tracked back to the laptop. A Windows 98 platform computer, the laptop did not have the updates now on XP computers. It had to be wiped out. The teacher was relieved of the computer and not given another one for home/school use. ***********

I think she should be acquitted.

If there was no firewall, any material can be viewed without censorship. We had a case where a child typed in whitehouse.com, well what came up was, let’s just say we hope that doesn’t occur in our “White House” on Pennsylvania Ave. …Even if she was told not to turn the computer off, … she could have turned off the monitor. This would have prevented anyone from seeing what was on the screen at the time. At the very least, she could have turned the monitor to the wall. She says she is not computer literate, and many teachers aren’t. Most people would not have thought of this, and obviously she is one of them. She should have reported the incident to the tech department if the school had one, or at least the principal.

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Current law pits teachers and schools against law enforcement.

It does little to “protect” students at school, much less outside of schools, nor to teach them wrong from right when they are faced with the same decisions we try to pretend they will not encounter outside of our classrooms. Filters have been empowered to move from the domain of only blocking “porn” to having a wider purpose of blocking anything we might be fickle enough to object to today, and lazy enough not to want to deal with: games, social networking, music, weapons …

We think nothing of blocking “free speech” because we “own” the computers and networks and have a right to exercise control. Most districts don’t allow web-based eMail clients, even for school work, and have policies that punitively punish both students and adults for their use of the internet outside of school, again often without TEACHING but just legislating. Wouldn’t it be better to help those students and teachers learn how to express themselves without causing harm to one another? We should be able to do that in our schools.

Our highest purpose as educators is to instill the love of lifelong learning in our students. Teach students how to succeed in any situation and to learn and grow from it. When they encounter those jobs that just don’t exist yet, how will we retrain them later in life?

Second to that is to give our students the gift of communication. Learn how to be a smart consumer and producer of information and media in this new technology connected world. I can’t tell you just how paramount this is—perhaps more important than any math book series, or whether evolution will be taught in biology. They will need the skill of communication to make use of those other very important, but secondary, issues.

Our current policies often place textbooks and standardized testing over both of these things. Our current idea of “accountability” often runs in an opposite direction to teaching kids to love learning and to learn how to communicate. Have students learned what they need to succeed when they leave us? Will they love learning in every situation they may encounter? Can they turn knowledge into wisdom through communication? If not—we should go back to the drawing board. We may be losing the race.

Porn doesn’t belong in schools. No doubt about it.

If we’re going to legislate that, we should hold the providers of that material responsible. Schools should be able to register their IP addresses in a “do not serve” list, and very simply a pornographic content provider should be able to say “we can not serve you.” We can tell and track what web site these materials come from (with the exception of some picture-based eMail spam). We should put students, teachers, schools, and communities on the SAME SIDE on this issue. Millions of fingers and millions of eyes can report and flag content violations if they have ANY concerns. Let’s use our judicial system to go after the predators, not the victims.

International providers who refuse to abide by the “do not serve” lists or use proxies to defeat the mechanisms can be blocked nationally and unilaterally, similar to the way China does if we need to. Either you play by the law, or our major national backbone providers will refuse to carry your traffic for you. We have even more options for U.S.-based companies that seek to harm our children by ignoring this simple law. If in doubt, if you think there is a question that your content might violate child protection laws, then do not serve it to the IPs on this list or risk prosecution.

This should never get to the point where a teacher is being convicted and facing jail time, suspension of license, or possible harm to children. If she did it on purpose (unlikely), or did it by accident, the fact that the content was served to what was obviously a school is the real crime here. We hold bartenders responsible for serving underage drinkers. We hold gas station attendants responsible for selling cigarettes to minors. We should hold the providers responsible for illegally serving those on this list.

I am discouraged by the use of filters, as I have been since we first talked about them in my school in 1995-96. Anything that does not harm children gives us an opportunity for that teachable moment. Sometimes that is a bit uncomfortable, but it is the way life really is.

Every educational blog and chat room lost to classroom use is one less opportunity for students to learn to communicate, interact, and publish. Why? Because some people abuse MySpace?

Then we need to do a better job understanding this new world as educators, and helping our students who will undoubtedly be assimilating it in to their lives, and won’t always have us around to “protect” them. Let’s open the doors of opportunity. Let’s try to positively guide the development of “safe” resources and quality networks. Let’s remember that these students are our future leaders—and that this future isn’t as far away as we think.

And then let’s empower them to make better choices than we did.

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It’s hard to believe someone would be convicted of anything based on the information in this story. What happened to the district’s responsibilities regarding CIPA, and [its] obligation to filter student internet access? To the technology director’s responsibility to install that software on all computers accessible to students? To providing adequate training in classroom procedures and tools to substitute teachers? There are plenty of others to share in the so-called “guilt”!

That aside, adult content providers have become exponentially more expert at getting around filters and blocks. Like a carnival hall of mirrors, the unfortunate viewer who stumbles into these links enters a distorted world where hitting the “delete” button can just pull you in deeper. Not only is Amero’s experience plausible, but almost anyone who has used the internet has been the recipient of unwanted and unasked-for pornographic content. I suspect a regular classroom teacher would have disobeyed orders and pulled the plug. Subbing is a tough job, and Amero may not be up to handling what the job dishes out. At the very most, she is guilty of poor judgement, and that is all.

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This is very scary. The way your story reads, it not comprehensible that this woman would have to face any jail time. Our district has made great progress in this area, but we still occasionally get problematic pop-ups. I know of several instances very similar to this type of pop-up occurrence. Three or four years ago, before we had more sophisticated software, it was scary how easily an innocent search would have a pop-up that you couldn’t close; many were pornographic.

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This is so wrong. I have to deal with this kind of problem every day. Even with anti-virus [software], anti-spyware [software], and a firewall in place—in fact, even with the browser’s pop-up blocker tuned on—these kinds of things still get through. In addition, who was the person who gave Amero the command not to turn the computer off? She could have saved herself a lot of trouble, were she allowed to do that. … And Principal Fain is clueless. He needs to get his head in the game and start reading eSchool News or Technology & Learning magazine before he gets himself into a similar predicament.

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Everyone knows that it is a very simple task to determine … when a web site has been visited. Secondly, most of the conscious world understands that porn sites are notorious for leaving bugs on people’s computers. It is also a well-known fact that people who are unfamiliar with pop-ups do not handle them very well. It is very unfair to expect any substitute teacher to be familiar with the school’s computer. The school should have be taken to court, not the teacher, for not ensuring that there were proper filters in place.

What is really tragic about this case is the simple fact there is no evidence to indicate that the teacher, in fact, visited a porn web site. … Shame on the narrow-minded people who convicted her for failing to take the time to understand the nature of this very serious problem.

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There is a tremendous amount of responsibility for a school system to have internet-accessible computers in the classroom setting. It is up to the school system to provide adequate safeguards to prevent incidents of porn or other situations from occurring. We are now into the 21st century. Computer technology is not in the infancy stage; rather, it is a highly developed form of communication that offers solutions to combat the ongoing perversion of this media. It would only take someone with some knowledge (and little at that) to go into the preferences of the browser and disable pop-ups. Failing to pay a subscription fee for internet virus protection clearly reflects negligence on the administration of the school. Obviously, the students’ best interest was not a consideration. Using this substitute teacher as the scapegoat for the school’s lack of action for internet safety is a more of a criminal act than having the pop-ups on the screen. The school system should take this opportunity of exposure to remedy a dinosaur mindset to computers.

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We dealt with a similar incident a few years ago in which an employee was experiencing such pop-ups; he voluntarily reported the pop-up “porn” problems. (It turned out that a custodian accessed his computer at night to peruse pipe tobacco sites and caused the malware to load that brought up the porn pop-ups.)

Our CFO was ready to fire the employee (an exemplary employee, by the way) and prosecute him. Our division demonstrated how harmless sites could harbor the malware seeds that would load porn pop-ups from any number of sites.

The person here … who is probably most culpable is the principal or the IT/IS director who failed to pay the bill to put the appropriate filters on the school network. I suspect someone is ducking [his or her] responsibility and blaming the teacher. In my institution, the teacher would be forgiven, once the problem was given a fair airing. It IS unforgiveable, however, that the network was wide open for such malware loading.

As for Mr. Steinmetz, one of the jurors, obviously he doesn’t understand ANYTHING about how this type of malware can pop up on anyone’s computer. For him to make the statements about the teacher, as he did, shows his lack of impartiality. What a heartless schmuck.

This poor woman; this is totally unfair, and a miscarriage of justice. This has happened to hundreds of thousands of people, both in and out of educational institutions.

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The fact that a person is going to lose up to 18 months of her life in jail because a bunch of 13-year olds were “exposed” to five seconds of porn is ludicrous. These kids aren’t scarred for life because they saw one or two images of people having oral sex. They probably see more porn on their home computers because their parents, too, are computer illiterates who don’t know how to install spyware-blocking programs.

Let’s just call it an impromptu “sex education” lesson and let the poor substitute teacher go. I think ruining her career has been punishment enough.

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This is absolutely ridiculous and completely out of proportion. True, she could have simply turned the monitor off and waited until class was over to close everything up properly. However, it is reasonable to assume that she didn’t know the computer would still remain on and did not want to touch any power button.

This, of course, underscores a major problem with our culture. What is inherently “wrong” with pictures depicting nude people engaged in sexual acts? The answer is nothing. I’m not saying that we should just let the kids browse around at will, but it is far from an emotionally damaging experience if they happen to come across it. I can guarantee that you could show those pictures to any two-year-old and, unless they have been told by their parents otherwise, they would not act as if anything was wrong. Kids react to this kind of thing only in response to how the adults around them are reacting.

Let me pose a hypothetical question. What if, instead of pornography, pop-ups of heavily armed men firing high-powered automatic weapons started to fill the screen? And, while we’re at it, let’s add a couple pictures of bloody knives just for kicks. Would she still have been convicted of a crime?

This woman has done nothing wrong. There are no victims, other than perhaps a few upset parents who now have to explain to their kids why what happened was “wrong.” If there’s anything you can say about her, it’s that she might want to take a basic computer class. But jail time? Come on, she is not a criminal.

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I feel strongly the problem does not lie with the teacher but with the technology department. It is their responsibility to have filters, antivirus programs, and firewalls in place that will circumvent this stuff from being accidentally downloaded, most usually by the students who will touch any unguarded computer—you know the feeling of entitlement that they have. I work in technology and know from experience both with a student and a faculty member that this spyware can be downloaded (it happened) when your filters are not in place or working due to technical difficulties (not enough memory in the filter server, etc.) and then pop up on some unsuspecting dupe. This sub teacher may be a literal learner, and a place of learning should know that and support her when she did not “touch the computer” as she had been warned not to do. It needs to come down to: Did anyone actually get physically hurt? It’s not like these “little darlings” aren’t doing this on their own—just go to MySpace, etc., and you will see what I mean.

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I feel for Ms. Amero in this case. Although as a substitute I have not had quite so graphic an experience, I have had numerous instances where students have gone to sites and things started showing up that were inappropriate. I usually get them to close the site, but pop-ups are evil little infiltrators that make it very difficult to close them.

I closely monitor students’ activities when on the computers. Sometimes, all too frequently, they go to the sites themselves. Our [district] has a policy of no substitute use of computers, and I have never been asked not to shut one down. I think the teacher should take some of the blame in this case for leaving it on and insisting the substitute leave it on, … as well as the principal, for not protecting the students with security measures.

Ms. Amero is being used as a scapegoat by a school that is trying to cover up [its] own deficiencies in teacher training, policy making, and security. If I were the parents, I would sue the school, not Ms. Amero. Just having all this happen to her has probably ruined her career and life. It is surely a nightmare for her, and she probably panicked and did not know how to deal with the situation, another example of needing to train staff.

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This substitute was stupid, but the jury was wrong to convict her. The prosecutor committed more of a crime than the substitute did by bringing this case to trial.

This is another case where the higher-ups, who are complicit, go free, and the lowly swing in their stead.

Who is really guilty here? How about…

* School board members who allow obsolete equipment to grace their schools. * Superintendents who beg for underfunded initiatives, then “spin” lackluster and mediocre progress to the media as fantasies of success. * Principals who accept trash equipment on their campuses and make excuses for the bureaucracy that allows this junk to fester.

The “spyware” defense should have convinced the jury to indict the prosecutor for negligence in this case. Is the prosecutor planning a run for public office? We can hope that the Connecticut Bar reprimands this prosecutor.

Why is there no case against the substitute?

Because obsolete computers should never be turned on in schools. Obsolete computers cannot be protected [and] cannot receive updates (since updates ceased to be manufactured maybe five years after the operating system stops being supported). And, these computers should never be connected to a network or the internet. These computers can be compromised, infected, commandeered in less than one minute. Just watch a personal firewall report where exploits originate from … Brazil, Egypt, Russia, Hong Kong, Korea, China .. .and from anywhere in this country.

Unprotected, always-on computers in schools have maybe 16 hours a day when hackers can commandeer them for their evil purposes: fast network connections, unused in the evening when no one is watching. And nighttime in our country is daytime in some parts of the world. Our politicians would be appalled to learn how much spam is generated by unprotected, “unprotectable” computers left on in our school districts.

Why was the substitute “stupid?”

The monitor has an “off switch,” the monitor has a power cord, the computer has the same. There are network cables that can be unplugged at the computer, and at the wall.

If it is a crime to be “stupid” in Connecticut, maybe we should ask the majority of our politicians to relocate there. But, this substitute shouldn’t go to jail because the school was underfunded and mismanaged. Why not send the substitute to a class on rational thinking, thinking for oneself, and a class about responding independently and with sound judgment in times of crisis and stress?

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The ones at fault here would be the person(s) in charge of making sure the filtering and blocking software was up to date and paid for. The substitute is guilty of panicking and not knowing other ways to stop the situation, but not of what she has been convicted. There’s not a lot of information on the specifics of the trial, but I keep hearing “kids said they saw” this or that. Did anyone ask the kids if the teacher was trying to prevent it? I have personally experienced this at my home when my firewall was down. I clicked on something innocent enough and got a slightly offensive pop-up. Trying to close it brought up two more, slightly more offensive. Click to close those, and two more showed up. Before I knew it, I was in a porn-fest that would have made Howard Stern blush. The ONLY way out was to force-shutdown the machine, not something everyone knows how to do. Yes, she could have shut off the monitor, or covered it with something; either she panicked and didn’t think of it, or things happened so quickly that the students saw things before she could react. While it’s her job to keep the children from these kinds of images, it’s the school system’s responsibility to maintain a system in which this type of thing can’t occur. In this country we’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. She would only be guilty if she intentionally opened one of the sites. I never heard that the prosecution proved this. In fact, they never even checked to see if there was or wasn’t spyware on the machine. This was a sad day for instructional technology—we’re back to witch hunting!! One last thought … School [officials]—surely covering their own behinds—said, “We’ve never had a problem with pop-ups before or since.” Do they really expect anyone to report [such problems] after what they did to the first person????? *********** Yes, this can happen to anyone. At one time, after logging off from a college site at which I was taking an online class, pornographic images began popping up on my computer at random intervals. Since I was logged on to a Christian college site, I doubted that the damage came from there—nor did I frequent the types of sites notorious for spyware, as I don’t use peer-to-peer sharing, music sites, or social networking sites. Still, there they were. I was at home and able to stop my computer and have it “cleaned out,” but on a school network, the authority to shut down does not necessarily reside [with] the user. I, as a teacher, could have very reasonably logged on to this site during the course of my school day and there would have been the devil to pay. However, my first action would have been to get the kids into the hall and my second to call the principal—but I was a career teacher, not a substitute. If no check for spyware was made, I cannot see how this teacher could be found guilty.

Certainly those responsible for making the decisions to put technology in the classrooms do or should know what types of insidious things are out there on the internet. To make the decision to put internet access in the classroom and not also put in the best possible safeguards is unimaginable. [Do] this school’s [or] district’s computers truly have no firewalls or anti-adware/spyware software on the system? Are the computers positioned in a way to be clearly visible to the students or automatically project images to a screen or SMART Board? Are substitutes brought into the classrooms with access to technology and no training whatsoever—especially with what is basically open, unfiltered internet access? If so, then does not at least a portion of the responsibility for this incident lay with those responsible for setting policy? ***********

Was the jury right to convict this substitute teacher?

No, the jury was not right in [its] conviction. The school district failed to keep [its] students safe from the possible pop-ups without proper protection. They are using Amero as a scapegoat for their problem. Other teachers in the teacher lounge reportedly told her to ignore the pop-ups, they’ll eventually go away. Plus, the principal admitted that they did not pay th