It seems that the news lately has been full of teachers running afoul of technology. There’s the case (ably covered by Instructify editor Bill Ferris) of the Austin teacher who incurred the Wrath of the Internet by writing, very mistakenly indeed, that “No software is free and spreading that misconception is harmful.” There’s the case of the “Drunken Pirate” student teacher who posted a rollicking picture to her MySpace page, was denied her degree in Education just before her graduation from Millersville University, and then sued — and lost.
And then there’s the case of Julie Amero. In 2004, Amero was substituting in a seventh-grade classroom when inappropriate, possibly pornographic pop-ups began appearing on the computer. Amero was arrested and then convicted in January 2007 of four counts of child endangerment, and she was facing up to 40 years in prison until her conviction was vacated a few months later and a new trial ordered.
When I first heard the case described on the radio, it was immediately obvious to me that the computer had been hijacked by malware. I’ve only had a computer hijacked once, but once was more than enough, believe me. No one who has been startled by the appearance of multiple pop-up windows that spawn yet more pop-up windows when you try to close them would be likely to doubt Amero’s protestations that she hadn’t been deliberately visiting porn sites in class. Since my own hijacking, I’ve been very careful about installing and automating programs like the free Ad-Aware on my own computers. Ad-Aware updates itself and scans my system automatically, but every once in awhile I look at it, and it’s catching some nasty stuff every time, let me tell you. All the major web browsers now also allow pop-up blocking, and I make darn sure that it’s turned on, especially since I can grant pop-up exceptions when I need to. Your school’s IT staff almost certainly puts such protections in place for your classroom’s computer(s), but it might be worth a delicate inquiry — especially since evidence shows that the IT staff at Julie Amero’s school weren’t taking basic precautions.
It’s widely agreed in the tech community that the Julie Amero case was a tragedy and a travesty and a farce and just, well, extremely frustrating. At least it’s now over: on November 21st, 2008, Julie Amero chose to end a four-year court battle by pleading guilty to a single misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct, paying a fine of $100, and having her Connecticut teaching credentials revoked. What does she think about computers, after all this trouble? She doesn’t “touch them except for e-mail.” — AMANDA FRENCH
State of Connecticut vs. Julie Amero (Wikipedia)