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The Worst That Could Happen

No doubt CS teachers in the USA are aware of the Julie Amero case, where the Connecticut substitute teacher was convicted on four counts of risk of injury to a minor or impairing the morals of a child when students in her class were exposed to pornographic materials that were somehow downloaded to her computer. So it may come as no surprise that a similar case has happened elsewhere.

A documentary (The Worst That Could Happen) has just been screened highlighting the case of a New Zealand primary school principal who lost his job and therefore income (and then his house) because pornography was downloaded onto his school laptop. The story seems all too familiar. The Board of Trustees of the school (the principal's legal employer) did not do a proper forensic investigation of the hard drive. They also misled him on the direction he should take (advising him to resign). The Teacher's Council (the body that certifies all New Zealand teachers) then threatened to take away his right to teach.

Voluntary help arrived in the form of forensic IT specialists, Warren Anderson and Skip Parker and a lawyer, Andrew Hooker, who all provided their time for free. This computer forensic team was able to show that the pornographic images were downloaded onto the computer by a trojan during a time that the principal could prove that he wasn't even at the computer. As a result, the New Zealand principal was able to keep his teacher registration (certification).

What has been happening in increasingly frequent similar cases has been compared to the Salem Witch trials. Certainly it would appear that totally innocent teachers are losing their livelihoods and professions through no fault of their own.

Julie Amero's treatment at the hands of the law was much more severe. The impact on her personal life was devastating. She lost her job, her health, and a longed for baby. When she was shown the documentary about the New Zealand principal, her reaction was: "He should run for the hills. No teacher should have a computer in their room." Given her experience, her advice is totally understandable.

But as CS teachers, this not advice we can take. It's also not advice we can ignore. Often the computing teacher is considered the school expert on all things computing so we need to be especially cognizant of these issues and as informed as we can be.

Thankfully, Warren, Skip and Andrew have produced a wonderful guide (which I have been lucky enough to see advance copy of) that guides everyone in the process (the teacher, the employer, and the IT Department) to ensure no evidence is destroyed and that the teacher involved is afforded natural justice. I'm sure once it is published, they would be happy for it to be made more widely available.

Margot Phillipps
CSTA Board of Directors

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