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November 7, 2003
Educator pushes cyber-law curriculum for schools

Gail Norheim
Journal staff writer

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Teenagers are committing crimes in their own homes, and some might not realize their actions could be considered felonies. A local educator believes that would change if schools addressed the issue.

After watching reports of juveniles getting arrested on charges of cyber crimes, such as identity theft, hacking, spreading computer viruses and downloading illegal music and videos on the Internet, Mary Radnofsky, president of Alexandria-based Socrates Institute, searched for resources teachers could use on the subject. She found limited information helpful to teachers, she said.

This spurred Radnofsky to develop the CyberEthics Program, a curriculum based on national standards geared toward kindergarten through 12th-graders. Its goal is to address the issue of cyber crime in schools, where many children learn to use computers.

Most area school districts, such as the city of Alexandria and Fairfax and Prince George's counties, include discussions on plagiarism and proper use of the Internet for research in English and science classes, but do not address its legal or illegal uses.

"The illegal use, we haven't gotten there yet. We are hoping we wouldn't have to get there. More and more children having access [to the Internet] is still fairly new," said Martha Johnson, a network resource teacher at Minnie Howard School in Alexandria, where all 720 students received brand-new, school-issued laptops just a month ago.

Radnofsky, who also teaches an online course for the University of Maryland, is hoping to pilot CyberEthics in Alexandria City Public Schools next fall, but will take the program to any school that is interested, she said.

Alexandria schools officials declined to comment on whether current curriculum includes cyber ethics.

Radnofsky's program, which includes six 15-minute videos for teachers to use in classrooms or after-school activities, features role-playing games that show students what happens when they make certain choices on the Internet.

At the end of the course they will be "certified cyber ethical citizens."

The problem is that so many children have access to the Internet, but are not taught what is ethical and legal, Radnofsky said.

In 2001, more than 90 percent of youth aged 13 to 17 used computers and by 2002, 99 percent of public schools had Internet access, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, a research group used by the U.S. Department of Education.

Most students who commit cyber crimes think they are committing pranks and might not even realize what they are doing is illegal, Radnofsky said. A way to help is to focus on teaching students about the consequences and victims, she said.

Radnofsky said she thinks the subject already has been mandated in Virginia by a 1999 state law that requires character education to be taught in public schools. It's just as important to teach children Internet safety and etiquette as it is to teach them not to speak to strangers and to be nice to others, she said.

At Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, ninth-graders sign a network user guideline, in which they agree to rules for using the school's 600 computers, including no downloading games or software from the Internet, said Roger Green, an English teacher at the school.

During their freshman year, students are taught about proper use of the school's computers in English, biology and technology courses, as well as not giving out personal information online. But beyond the school's computer rules, Green said, ethics is not addressed.

"It's absolutely an issue that people are concerned with," he said. "It's an ever-changing

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