Mother’s complaint about ‘very explicit’ links prompts IOW schools to change website

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SMITHFIELD, Va. (WAVY) — The mother of a freshman at Smithfield High School says she was shocked and surprised last week by what she found on the school’s website.

Diana Elswick was able to link to a database that included articles on sex and pornography she found unsuitable for her kids, ages 15 and 5.

“Hundreds and hundreds of them,” Elswick said in a Tuesday interview.

The material was accessible from the Public Library of Virginia. It included images of naked men and information on making porn videos. Elswick contacted the office of Division Superintendent Jim Thornton.

“Once we got her concern, we took immediate action to remove that link while we investigated the matter,” said Lynn Briggs, Community and Media Relations Manager for Isle of Wight Schools.

One link went straight to articles from Playboy. The images were removed, but Elswick says it didn’t matter.

“It had a lot of really very explicit conversation going on in there.”

Other articles did have images — one included two naked men.

“If it was something that wasn’t explicit, actually showing two gay men together, naked, that would be different,” Elswick said.

Briggs says the division has removed access to the database that is hosted by Michigan-based Gale-Cengage. The company’s statement to 10 On Your Side said it’s committed to ensuring age-appropriate content, and recognizes that further filtering is necessary. The company says it now has more filters on its Student Edition, but doesn’t want to censor content which can help young researchers.        

Thornton called Elswick personally Tuesday morning to thank her for calling the matter to his attention, but she wants more accountability at the state, district and school levels to vet online material.

“Somebody needs to be making choices and deciding based on what’s appropriate.”

Other school systems use the database link on their sites. A spokeswoman for Chesapeake Public Schools told 10 On Your Side on Tuesday afternoon, “Once alerted to the issue, CPS immediately blocked its access for use and began taking steps to remove links to this resource from all school websites.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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