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Published: Friday, 11/8/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

2 districts block Web site

Parent fearing bullying alerts Perrysburg schools to forum

BY VANESSA McCRAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Users can ask and answer questions about each other on the site. Users can ask and answer questions about each other on the site.
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Perrysburg and Eastwood schools blocked access to a social media Web site that officials said could breed online bullying and issued a warning to parents.

Ask.fm allows people to post anonymously through a free mobile phone app or Web site. Users ask and answer questions about each other on the site. The queries can range from the innocuous — “What are your favorite junk foods?” — to ruthless comments that media reports have connected to the suicide of a British girl whose death earlier this year captured headlines.

This week, Perrysburg Superintendent Thomas Hosler told parents about the site, brought to the district’s attention by a parent.

He called it a “forum that lends itself well to bullying,” but he said no specific incident prompted the district’s action.

“We’re a team — the schools and the parents. We want them to share information with us that will make a difference," he said. “[It’s a] cat-and-mouse game with trying to stay with what’s current.”

Perrysburg uses a filtering service to block various sites, including some social media forums, gambling, porn, and other Web sites from being accessed on school-issued computers or through a school Internet connection. Facebook and Twitter, more well-known social media sites that can distract students, are blocked during the school day, Mr. Hosler said.

Perrysburg parent Kristen Rodzos learned about the site from her middle-school daughter. She didn’t think too much about it until she saw a notification from the site pop up on her daughter’s cell phone. She read through the postings and didn’t like what she saw.

Many comments were harmless or even positive, but there was also name-calling and offensive posts that, if spray-painted in public, “would be on the nightly news,” Ms. Rodzos said.

She shut down her daughter’s access to the site and alerted the school about its popularity.

“This is an area of our life and our world right now where no one can know everything,” she said. “It’s imperative to tell everybody what you know because it’s dangerous.”

Eastwood Local Schools also notified parents recently about Ask.fm. In a message to community members, the district warned the site has become a popular place for “cyber-bullying, harassment, and posting sexual content.” The district blocked the site, but it cautioned that the site can be accessed on personal mobile devices.

Betsy Hood, Eastwood’s eLearning director, said the site prompted concern because of its anonymous and instant nature and said it lacks the level of privacy safeguards of some other social media sites.

The service indicates on its Web site that users can turn off anonymous questions and block specific users from making contact and reminds users that content and profiles are visible to anyone on the Internet. An online request seeking comment from the service was not returned Thursday.

Other area schools also have blocked the site, including Toledo Public Schools and Sylvania Schools.

TPS Assistant Superintendent Brian Murphy said the district has blocked Ask.fm for some time, along with other social media sites that are “disruptive.”

Toledo’s computer services department keeps up with new technology trends, and concerns come up at regular principal meetings, Mr. Murphy said.

“Kids are always looking for something new … something fresh,” he said. “We’re always going to have to stay conscious of that moving forward.”

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6056, or on Twitter @vanmccray.



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