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Miami-Dade schools taking threat of child predators online seriously

MIAMI, Fla. – The Miami-Dade School Board is working with the Miami Dade County School District to make sure that students and parents are involved in cyber-safety training in an effort to promote internet safety.

It comes as federal agents are warning parents that more kids on-line increases the risk of savvy cyber-child predators having access to children.

The FBI warns that offenders may start with casual conversations on-line. They gain a child’s trust before engaging in the exchange of illicit images and then to eventual attempts to meet the child in-person.

Dr. Martin Karp, vice chair of the school board of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, said “even my 9-year-old had received a message that was inappropriate.”

The topic of possible online child exploitation in the pandemic-era of distance learning was part of a discussion during Wednesday’s Miami-Dade County school board meeting.

“This item is not about the district’s security measures — the district has done quite a bit in terms of ensuring our platforms are secure — it’s more about our students who now, younger than ever, are going to be spending time online,” Karp said.

With children as young as 5-years-old now online to get a virtual education, the district should provide a warning to students, Karp said. His related agenda item directs the superintendent to address issues pertaining to internet safety in an effort to prevent sexual abuse.

“There can’t be a better time to have this conversation because in just a couple of weeks, all of our students start the year online, so the dangers will clearly be there,” Karp said.

The FBI offers these recommendations to parents:

  • Review and approve games and apps before they are downloaded.
  • Make sure privacy settings are set to the strictest level possible.
  • Keep electronic devices in an open, common room of the house.

The FBI also said it is crucial to monitor a child’s online activity during the school day. That’s advice parents or guardians may also want to share with childcare providers or private tutors for those who are setting-up learning pods or enrolling kids in distance learning day camps at the start of the school year.

Miami-Dade County School District officials late Thursday told Local 10 that on their upcoming week of welcome – the week of Aug. 24, there will be cyber safety curriculum for parents and for students in available in English, Spanish and Creole.

Week of Welcome

During Week of Welcome, parents and students will be able to access content in three languages that has been carefully developed and curated to guide them through the most important things they need to know before we start the school year.

These topics are organized into 4 main categories:

Connecting Virtually: information related to devices and connectivity, student email accounts, My School Online, Digital Citizenship and Cyber Safety.

Supporting Student Success: modules designed to help families establish schedules and routines to optimize learning and developing strong study habits, support for special populations – such as students with disabilities, English learners, and youth and families living in unstable housing.

Healthy Mind & Body: topics related to mental health, nutrition and exercise, and mindfulness.

Your Child on Campus: modules will provide students and parents with information on what they can expect to see and experience at the physical schoolhouse once M‐DCPS enters Stage 2 of reopening, including information on the District’s enhanced safety and health protocols.

Each module will indicate whether it is to be viewed by students, parents, or both together.

Modules will be made available in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole via the Week of Welcome website at www.miamiweekofwelcome.com.

The Week of Welcome will help provide families a sense of what they can expect on Aug. 31, according to the district.

The M‐DCPS Distance Learning Hotline will continue to be available to provide assistance, 305‐995‐HELP (4357).

About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."