Education Dept. announces online preventative measure

By John McPhaul

As a preventive measure during online classes necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the island Department of Education (DE) and commonwealth and federal security agencies will offer a cycle of digital workshops aimed at training members of the school communities in the proper use of social networks and digital platforms, DE Secretary Eligio Hernández Pérez announced Thursday.

“Since the [start of] public health emergency, we have resorted to the modality of distance education and the use of technology as part of the teaching-learning process,” the DE secretary said in a written statement. “Internet access represents an additional challenge for our entire school community and we want to provide tools so that there is more security during that period when students are connected to a platform. Their physical and emotional safety is the most important thing.”

For the series of webinars, a team of experts in technology, cybercrime and online security developed, over a month ago, a list of workshops for parents, teachers and students that will promote the correct use of online tools. The Puerto Rico Police, the island Justice and Family departments, the federal Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are some of the agencies that are collaborating with the DE in this educational effort. Also participating is the island telecommunications provider Liberty Puerto Rico, which will offer the use of its secure internet browsing capsules.

In the trainings, cybersecurity experts will discuss topics that will help enable teachers and parents to detect any inappropriate situation or behavior that occurs while students are online. In turn, the technical staff will explain what immediate steps must be taken and how to refer the incident to the authorities for investigation.

Some of the topics to be presented are prevention of obscene material, child exploitation and production of child pornography. Likewise, the webinars will cover the subjects of school and sexual harassment, cyber crimes and procedures for the prosecution of minors.

“As the lead agency of the alliance against child exploitation, of which the Department of Education is a member, ICE HSI [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations] will continue to collaborate with all our partners to identify, investigate and prosecute all those who so aberrantly intend, through the Internet, to use the most vulnerable segment of society, our children, to perpetrate crimes,” said Iván J. Arvelo, special agent in charge of ICE HSI for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

The workshops will be published on all DE digital platforms, including Teams, and will be shared with parents or guardians at various broadcast times so that they can access them after their workday.

“We understand how challenging remote learning can be and to help, we will continue to provide virtual workshops in coordination with the Department of Education to improve the use of the tools by teachers, parents and students and thus provide visibility on the security controls they should consider,” said Carla López, education leader for Microsoft Caribe. “In this way, we will contribute to creating more efficient and safe educational environments for Puerto Rico.”

The Private Education Association has also joined the initiative and will disseminate training for its enrollment, parents and guardians, confirmed its president, Prof. Wanda Ayala de Torres.

Meanwhile, all of the public system enrollment will also have access to the orientation series to be broadcast by the Puerto Rico Corporation for Public Broadcasting, commonly known by its official call letters WIPR, and simultaneously on the DE’s social networks (@educacionpr). Experts will participate in an orientation and training panel so that students have the tools to identify, and refer, the types of inappropriate approaches they may encounter on social networks or digital platforms.

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