How It's Done: Using Technology To Stop A Child Predator

Man in suit examines laptop computer with magnifying glass, with binary code in foreground
(Image credit: Getty images/ alphaspirit)

Where: East Irondequoit Central School District, New York 

What: How We Used Technology to Stop a Child Predator in His Tracks

Here are five reasons our 1:1 school district is using a student safety platform to monitor email and documents. 

We live in a world where danger can be lurking around any corner, ready to turn our children into unknowing victims. That may sound extreme, but it’s something that administrators, educators, and parents must be aware of in our society. Fortunately, districts have tools at their disposal to help thwart these dangers and keep their students both physically and emotionally healthy.

We learned this firsthand when a child predator from Michigan targeted one of our 11-year-old students last year. In early 2019, he attempted to send pornographic content to the sixth grader. Thankfully, Gaggle, our student safety platform, intercepted the file before the student even saw it–blocking the content from the district server and placing it into quarantine to ensure it wouldn’t be in the system.  

Early Warning Stopped Threat from Happening Again 

The story doesn’t end there. The file was sent to the local police department and our district worked with the police in a four-month investigation that resulted in the conviction of a 36-year-old male in Michigan. Because the platform shows the exact date and time of the file coming in—thus establishing a reliable timeline of events—it was all the proof that the police needed. 

If we didn’t have that video, this predator may have never been caught. The video also helped the police thwart the predator’s other attempts to contact children. During the investigation, for example, law enforcement discovered that the man had also contacted a youth in his own area. That means that we’ve effectively stopped him from affecting more children going forward.

Taking a Proactive Stance to Student Safety

Put in place for the 2018-19 school year, our student safety solution helps keep our students safe when they use district-issued devices on a 1:1 basis (students in grades K-8 have tablets while those in grades 9-12 receive laptops). Here are five reasons we chose to use it:  

1. To keep students safe in the digital world. We had previously discussed the monitoring of student email, but weren’t sure how to effectively implement the process. We got to a point where a lot of our web-based products were requiring an email from a student. In other words, it was blocking us from using some of our instructional tools, so we decided it was time to determine how to implement this while making sure that students would be safe.

2. To support a move to Microsoft or Google Education apps. When we rolled out Microsoft Office 365 for students in grades 6-12, including email and OneDrive accounts, we knew it was time to focus more closely on student safety. We chose Gaggle’s student safety platform because it monitors for us without us having to block the students from corresponding as they need to. 

3. To support good digital citizenship. Our platform is helping our students become better digital citizens. For example, I like that the system gives students a warning when they use inappropriate language. It holds them accountable and keeps them aware of what they’re doing, reminding them that this is a professional setting.

4. To ensure responsible device usage. We hand out school-issued equipment, which means students are expected to follow our responsible use policies. What we’re filtering is for our students’ own protection and well being. We’re not doing it to be “Big Brother.” We’re looking for red flags for their own safety—or someone else’s safety. It’s for their own good.

5. To keep the threats out. It’s all too easy to just think that technology is going to make things easier for learning and instruction, but there are so many pitfalls that go hand in hand with that. With our student safety solution, pornographic files, such as the one that the apprehended child predator used, go into an archive folder. An administrator then has to go in and pull that file out if he or she wants to save it. In our case, the file in question was sent to our local police department to do its investigation.   

With all of the different online tools that our students have access to today, keeping them safe is getting more and more difficult. If we didn’t have our student safety platform, we wouldn’t be able to manage this. We need its powerful combination of technology  and their safety experts to help us better understand—and respond to—what’s coming and going.

Christine Osadciw is Executive Director of Technology at East Irondequoit Central School District in New York.