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'Topless teacher' on school iPad, say students, but district says no


An Indiana school district says it will "establish stricter protocols in connection with students having access to school-owned computers and the connectability of those devices to personally-owned compatible Apple products" after students accessed an app on the tablet they shouldn't have.

When middle-schoolers in Indiana say they spotted a topless photo of their teacher on a school-issued iPad — and then were suspended as a result of "unauthorized" use of the device — the case got national attention. However, the school district says it's not true.

The four students at Highland Middle School in Anderson, Ind. had approval to use a teacher's school-issued iPad to access some apps. They did not have approval to look in the iPad's photo viewer, but apparently they did. From there, the reports about what happened vary, and wildly. According to one of the students, the youths saw a photo of the teacher topless, but the district said in a statement, released to TODAY.com, that it was "not a topless picture, not a nude picture, nor any pornographic material."

Anderson's Police Department looked into the matter. While it is possible that the picture was sexually suggestive in some way, it's not even clear that the teacher's face was visible in the image. Area newspaper, The Herald Bulletin, reported that a police department detective said in a press release that the photo "found by seventh-graders ... was not of a topless woman and the person depicted in the photo was partially clad and seen from the neck down." TODAY.com has contacted the police department, and will update this post if we hear back.

Joshua Troutt, 13, one of the suspended students, told TV station WRTV, "It's not our fault that she has a photo on there … we couldn't do anything to not look at it, if it just popped up when you pressed the button ... it was her fault that she had the photo on there — because her iPhone synced to it."

Sure enough, the photo seems to have appeared on the iPad because photos on the tablet and the teacher's iPhone were synced via iCloud's Photo Stream. 

Joshua's mother, Nicole Troutt, said in the same TV interview that the suspensions were "very unfair," and that action should be taken against the teacher.

TODAY.com contacted Benjamin Gale, school board president, who said that "due to federal and state laws" he is "not able to comment on any issues involving students."

But he shared the statement issued by the school district's attorney saying that the teacher did give "certain students" access to a school-owned iPad" which had been assigned to the teacher. The "precise purpose" was for the students to work "within two different applications."

Though the youngsters "explored the iPad and went to unauthorized applications," the report states, "the Anderson Police Department has investigated the issue and concluded that the picture was not pornographic and there was no criminal behavior."

One thing is for sure, says the school district. "Following the events that occurred Monday, the School Corporation will establish stricter protocols in connection with students having access to school-owned computers and the connectability [sic] of those devices to personally owned compatible Apple products."

This kind of mixup continues to be a growing problem in the world of education. Nationwide now, teachers in more than 40 school districts have been told not to "friend" students on Facebook because of the perils of misunderstandings or loose talk that can happen on the social network. (In New Jersey last year, a judge ruled a first-grade teacher should loser her job because she wrote on Facebook that she was a "warden for future criminals.") An angry dad who wanted to get back at a school administrator for confiscating his son's iPod created a fake porn profile in the administrator's name. And North Carolina recently became the first state to make it a crime to cyberbully teachers by posting doctored photos or false information about them online.

Eric Anderson (no relation to the Indiana town of the same name) is the IT director at the Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, Calif. The school issues iPads to every student, as part of a new program. For Anderson, making sure that kids use the devices appropriately, for educational endeavors, is of utmost importance.

"It is possible to 'lock down' an iPad, but there are limitations to what can be locked down based on what Apple provides," he told TODAY.com on Friday. Perhaps the situation will get better, though: Anderson notes that under the recently released iOS 6, "it is possible to lock the device into only running a single app."

One of the largest high school districts in Texas is coming under fire for requiring students to wear ID cards embedded with electronic devices that allow them to be located in an instant. School officials say the district was losing almost $2 million a year because of poor attendance. NBC's Janet Shamlian reports.

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