Wisconsin Mom Says 5-Year-Old Child Accessed Porn Website, ‘Inappropriate Content’ With School iPad

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Students at a Wisconsin school district were able to access pornography on their school’s iPads for months due to a lack of “working” filters, according to the mom of a student who accessed the material and spoke during the public comment portion of the district’s school board meeting Tuesday.

Kindergarteners at Burleigh Elementary School at Elmbrook Schools in Brookfield, Wisconsin were exposed to pornography and “other inappropriate content” on a school-issued iPad, because it had “no working filter” outside of the school environment between September 2021 and Nov. 22, 2021, mother Elizabeth Theis said during the public comment portion of the school board meeting.

The school district told the Daily Caller News Foundation that it “checked those devices and did not find any access to inappropriate content.”

Theis said she was told the filters on the iPads were not tested outside of school before the district gave them to students in September.

“So all 5k [kindergarteners] and first graders in the Elmbrook school district who brought home iPads this fall had unfiltered access to the internet,” she said.

“On one occasion this fall while at home, my five year old child on the school issued iPad, typed in searches like E, F, F, G, G, [on Google] and accessed multiple pages on a pornography website, videos on YouTube of people smoking, a Russian password hacking website and a YouTube like website with absurd, inappropriate videos from all over the world,” she added.

She requested that the school board take accountability because they told parents that content on the school devices would be filtered “in and out of school,” and “the school has had the liability to have the filters working on the device.”

“The school district has not made this issue known to the families in the district,” she said. “I do not know if the parents in the district’s five [there are four in the district] other elementary schools were notified” or if other students were exposed to the same content.

The district said Theis was unable to verify that her child had viewed inappropriate content, Elmbrook Schools Chief Strategy Officer Chris Thompson told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

“The way she described the story to us was that the child was on the iPad, apparently unsupervised, and pop-ups came up, child must have clicked on them, which opened up another tab,” he said. “But she could not verify that the child even saw the other tabs that were open the child was still using the application like he had intended.”

“When we [the district] looked at the history on the iPad, the only inappropriate websites that were listed in the browser history were those accessed by the parent as part of her discovery efforts,” he added.

When asked whether the school district could verify whether the student or the parent were responsible for certain searches, Thompson said, “Well, the other way we would know is that the student wouldn’t know to go to pornhub.com.”

He said Theis would have to verify that Pornhub.com was one of the websites accessed, but “that’s what we were told … she went to that site to verify access.”

He said a limited number of iPad’s were sent home, because the decision to do so was left up to teachers, but admitted “the filter was not properly deployed until November 22.”

He said the error was “fixed within hours” and communicated only to the families that had children “in classrooms that that were using iPads at home.”

“A review of all ipad devices and their browser history revealed that no Kindergarten or 1st grade student accessed inappropriate content during this period,” Thompson said in a statement to Elmbrook elementary families.

Emily Donohue, who is a resident of the district and chapter leader of the Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter of the Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism (FAIR), said now that the filters are in place, the pop-ups still show inappropriate content, but when you click on them, nothing happens. She said she wants to see a copy of the communications Thompson is referring to.

“On multiple issues over the past year, Chris Thompson’s response to controversial issues is not consistent with the facts that parents have presented him” and they have not provided evidence when parents have asked for it, she said. “I did talk to other people who said that they had kids in that class and never received any communication about it.”

“That would be an interesting thing for them to share, to support that they did communicate that because I question that they did,” she added.

Donohue said internet safety has been an ongoing problem in the district for “at least three years,” which parents have been advocating, but have seen no action, he told the DCNF.

A survey conducted in 2019 by the Wisconsin Department of Information found that out of Elmbrook’s high school students, 50% of all pupils surveyed reported using technology between midnight and 5 a.m. on school nights, 20% said they had electronically sent, received, or shared nude photos or sexual images in the past 30 days and 16% of all students and 24% of females said they had experienced rape, sexual assault or intimate partner violence.

In January, a Brookfield East High School teacher allegedly posted a nude photo of herself on social media, where several students were connected to her and exposed to the photo, according to Donohue. She said she has never seen communication from the district regarding the matter, though Thompson confirmed to the DCNF that she no longer worked for the district.

In a Wednesday email to the district’s superintendent, Donohue told Mark Hansen that she had expressed her concerns that “some teachers at Brookfield East require students use social media to communicate exclusively rather than the school issued Chromebook and email,” which she said he “dismissed.” Donohue said Hansen has not responded to the email.

Echoing Theis’ concerns, she also questioned the district’s lack of transparency and asked why parents hadn’t been notified about the photo. Hansen responded explaining that only parents of students in the teacher’s current classes were told of the incident, even though students outside her classes saw the photo, Donohue said in her email.

“I learned about this incident from another parent rather than the district,” she said. “Clearly communicating the issue and protocol would have created transparency.”

In March, at Brookfield Central High School, a teacher distributed a “sex survey” through a school-issued Chromebook, which a parent learned about and brought to the school’s attention, but it was not addressed until after a different parent raised the issue at a school board meeting, Donohue said.

The anonymous, digital survey about sexual activity was given to a health class at the high school that included statements such as “I have been under the influence of alcohol or drugs when having sexual intercourse,” and “I’ve had sexual intercourse with 4 or more people,” according to WISN 12. Other statements discussed the type of sex a person has had and whether or not they used protection.

One student who anonymously spoke to WISN 12 said it was not just the health class that participated in the optional survey.

The principal of the school, Brett Gruetzmacher said the “survey was not approved through the District’s Human Growth and Development Curriculum, and should not have been delivered,” according to an email to families, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

A petition in support of the teacher who distributed the survey, Megan Arndorfer, garnered 5,000 signatures in her favor.

On June 21, Arndorfer made a statement on the petition website which read, “The thought of me losing the job I always dreamed of and worked so hard at becoming was pretty overwhelming. But all your love literally saved it and I can’t thank you enough!” Thompson confirmed to the DCNF that she is not currently working for the district.

Elmbrook’s libraries have also been host to sexual books, which have been a hot button issue for parents across the country, namely in Virginia and Texas.

On July 13, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) wrote a letter to the district asking it to remove three sexually graphic books from its libraries and develop a better system for vetting books, which Donohue said the district still has not done. The three books have since been removed, but the only apology that has been issued is from Scott Wheeler, the school board’s president, according to Donohue.

On July 5, an Elmbrook parent used their 16-year-old student’s Chromebook to access Sora, a platform that makes the district’s eBook and audiobook collection available to all students, preschool to adult-aged and reflects what books are physically available in the district’s libraries, according to the WILL letter.

“Based on input from several parents, we believe that these materials may have been available to all students, K-12, at least as of July 5,” the letter said. “Moreover, downloading or viewing these electronic titles appears to evade Elmbrook’s parent-oversight program called Securly,” which is supposed to allow parents “insight into their student’s internet experience” by monitoring their internet history and search terms, according to the letter.

The three books include “This Book is Gay,” by Juno Dawson, which includes a chapter called “The Great Sex-App Debate,” instructing readers on sex apps, which includes advice on how to upload a picture of themselves, how to “chat with [other people on the app],” and then how “it is easy to meet up with them,” according to the letter. It also includes sections such as “Doing the Sex,” how to perform “a good handie,” how to perform oral sex, referred to as “blowies,” anal sex, referred to as “bumming,” as well as sections that teach readers “How to Argue with a Christian” and “How to Argue with Muslims.”

In the letter addressed to Hansen, WILL said it had been made aware of “sexually explicit materials [available] to children as young as 9 years old and perhaps younger” and stated it wasn’t a matter of First Amendment protection or whether the books had “merit.”

“State law has long recognized that parents have a right—and often a duty—to supervise what their minor children are exposed to,” the letter said. “So, while material may be protected by the First Amendment, that does not mean that children have a right to see it or that a school district has a right to disseminate it.”

“The district knew about these books for months and did nothing until WILL sent a letter and it became public,” Donohue’s email said. “It would be a huge trust builder to see Elmbrook offer proactive communication regarding problems rather than propaganda. Our children deserve better.” 

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