RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A Wake County parent learned it was possible for her son's school-issued laptop to access sexually explicit content.
Mom, Jennifer, who asked us not to use her last name, was stunned when her 8-year-old son came up to her with an uncomfortable question.
"Out of nowhere, my son said to me, he said, 'Mommy, what is a porn star?'"
Jennifer's son is in 3rd grade in the Wake County Public School System. The school district gave him a laptop intended to be used for classroom work and homework. However, other students reportedly told her son about a game that could be played on the laptops.
The game allows the user to choose different paths in life from being an infant to an adult. For adult jobs, it gives you a wide range of possible job choices -- jobs ranging from police officer and firefighter to exorcist and porn star.
The game is called BitLife, but the developer and publisher of BitLife said the explicit version that Jennifer's son found is an unauthorized pirated version of the original game.
"Candywriter, which is the studio in charge of BitLife, has taken various actions to have unauthorized copies of the game, including the version we believe Jennifer's son has accessed, removed from the internet," Candywriter Studio Head Andrew Stone told ABC11.
The official BitLife game is available only for mobile devices through Google Play and Apple's App Store and has an age rating of 17+.
Concerned about her son and other students accessing inappropriate materials on their school-issued laptops, Jennifer contacted her son's teacher and administrators at the school right away.
The teacher sent Jennifer a note in response promptly saying she spoke with the county and the website where the game was accessed was already listed as blocked at school. Jennifer was not happy with that response, so she went to the school and had her son show administrators how he could still access the game while on his district-issued laptop.
"If he could have access to just that website, what more have these children across Wake County, that have this same device -- how many more children have been exposed to things that their parents aren't aware of?"
Besides this unauthorized game, Jennifer did her own investigating and found she was able to access other sexually explicit and adult-oriented material on the device.
Troubleshooter Diane Wilson reached out to Wake County Public School System several times to get clarity about the situation. The district released the following statement:
"A parent brought to our attention that a student was able to access inappropriate content through a website that was not restricted on our network. We have taken action to block this website across the WCPSS network.
WCPSS uses automated enterprise-class filtering software and tools to protect students and staff from harmful online content, whether the school device is online at school or off-campus. In addition to the automated filtering system, we implement a rigorous manual review and adjustment process. This involves considering valuable feedback from our dedicated teachers, school administrators, and engaged parents. By combining technological solutions with human oversight, we strive to create a comprehensive and adaptive approach to online safety.
New websites emerge every day, presenting a continuous challenge for our classrooms that keeps us in a reactive posture more than we would prefer.
Understanding that education is the foundation of prevention, we work to teach students to be responsible digital citizens who understand the difference between safe and unsafe content. That, paired with the oversight of a teacher, helps our students learn the skills they need to navigate our community in an increasingly online world. We also provide staff and parents with resources to learn about online safety and digital citizenship. You can review those resources here. We regularly evaluate our safety practices to make sure we're maintaining the safest learning environment possible."
Jennifer said she wants parents to make sure they're monitoring their children even while they're using their school computer.
"My goal is to alert parents who have this same device so that they're aware and they can protect their children from being exposed to sexual material," Jennifer said.
What parents and students need to know is Wake County Public School System does have student device terms and conditions. Included in that is wording saying that the devices cannot be used for several things including gaming and accessing or viewing any pornographic or unlawful images or content. That policy states, while yes the district has a filtering system, no system is perfect and that devices are to be for school use only.