A bill proposed by County Executive Andy Spano back in April to teach children how to safely use the Internet was passed by the State Senate and Assembly last week at the end of the legislative session. If signed by Governor Pataki, it will take effect in September.
“For the past two years we have focused on ways to keep kids safe on the Internet. We’ve spoken to parents, teachers, law enforcement and young people. One of the things I felt was missing was an Internet safety school curriculum,’’ said Spano. “Kids use of the Internet has exploded in the past 10 years. It’s important that they know how to use this valuable tool in a safe manner because, unfortunately, we know all too well that predators are out there waiting to take advantage of them.’’
Spano thanked Westchester’s state delegation, particularly Assemblyman Richard Brodsky and Senator Nicholas Spano, who took the lead in advancing the bill.
“They recognized the need for this legislation and took quick action to make it a reality,’’ said Spano.
In a letter to Westchester’s state delegation on April 25, Spano urged the Legislature to pass a law requiring that children in grades K-12 be taught Internet safety. He noted that 99 percent of school districts in the United States had access to the Internet in 2002, compared with only 3 percent in 1994.
The new law would require the State Education Department to develop a K-12 curriculum on Internet safety and to advise and help those school districts that wish to implement it.
Spano noted that savvy children would be less likely to be lured by Internet predators. According to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 20 percent of all children regularly using the Internet have been sexually solicited in some way.
The Spano administration has been very proactive about protecting children on the Internet. Last year, the county held the first ever government-sponsored conference on cyberbullying and on May 9 held a symposium for parents on Internet Safety. Last week, the county hosted a national conference on Internet safety at the County Center which included executives from Verizon and Disney and teen networking giant Xanga and newcomer Bebo. The event was organized by Parry Aftab, executive director of Wiredsafety.org, who partnered with the county on last year’s cyberbullying conference.
To help teens and parents, Westchester County also created an Internet Safety website that can be accessed at www.westchestergov.com/cybernet.