Corzine increases vigilance of Web
Gov. Jon Corzine moved yesterday to expand Internet safety programs in New Jersey, prompting praise from experts who said the initiative was overdue in an era of nearly universal Web access.
In a letter, Corzine called on Attorney General Anne Milgram and Education Commissioner Lucille Davy to help strengthen training for teachers and school administrators by the start of the new school year.
School officials would be expected to better educate students, parents and community groups about ways to recognize and avoid Internet threats from pedophiles and other predators.
“With all of the benefits that evolving technologies provide us, too many unfortunate opportunities exist for adults to exploit children through the use of the Internet or for children to otherwise experience dangerous situations as a result of the doors that technology has opened,” Corzine wrote.
Responding to the announcement, Bergen County lawyer Parry Aftab, developer of the online-protection group wiredsafety.org, said her group is eager to assist state officials in preparing training programs.
“We’re ready to help. It’s time. We have all the leading experts who can make this happen,” she said.
Lynn Maher, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Education Association, pledged her union’s cooperation. “We certainly do care very much about Internet safety, because it impacts the well-being of students,” she said.
The governor cited a study that found 71 percent of teens reported receiving messages online from someone they don’t know, and 14 percent met with people they first encountered online. State investigators so far have found that at least 248 New Jersey sex offenders were registered on MySpace.com, a Beverly Hills-based social networking Web site used widely by youngsters older than 13.
“We as a state have an important role to play in giving parents, educators and caregivers the information and tools that empower them to teach children the safe and healthy use of technology and the Internet,” Corzine said.
Aftab, who shut down her law practice 12 years ago to develop wiredsafety.org, the first group dedicated to safe use of the Internet by youngsters, said: “We can no longer say, ‘No Internet for you.’ We have to recognize our kids are using it. They have to know how to use it.”
Will Richardson, a former Flemington teacher and author of “Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms,” said the state initiative may be an improvement over current “piecemeal” programs. But while the safety of children is highly important, he said, the response should not be so hysterical that schools end up stifling access to the World Wide Web.
He pointed to research that shows substantiated cases of child sexual abuse have are steadily declining, and that 95 percent of abuse cases involve family members, not strangers. The same research shows that among the offenses by non-family members, the Internet is involved in only a small percentage of cases.
“If it is just fear and doom and gloom and everybody be scared, that’s not the best way to do it. To me, that just leads to more blocking, more filtering, more reasons we can’t use Web technology in classrooms,” he said.
Education Commissioner Davy said state officials hope to build on existing programs and use schools to quickly get the latest advice on Internet safety to parents and students.
“I would hope in the fall, in PTA meetings and other school gatherings, these can be a topic of discussion,” she said.
Her own son, she noted, opened a page on the social networking site Facebook a few years ago when he enrolled in college.
“It is so important. This is scary stuff when you think of your own children, who can be a victim of a predator or someone else who doesn’t have their best interest at heart,” she said.
Joe Donohue may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (609) 989-0208. Staff writer John Mooney contributed to this report.
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