Published on March 26th, 2012 | by Jeff Herb1
Internet Filtering at Public Schools
“They let you access that site in your district?”
When I attend conferences, this is a very commonly repeated phrase.
How can there be so many different policies regarding internet filtering? What is acceptable in one district should be acceptable in another, right?
This is clearly not the case as there are probably as many internet use policies as there are districts in the country. And that is the way it should be. To understand the need or desire to filter internet access, we really need to look at differing policies and why these differences exist.
Here are several instances that would require a different set of policies:
- Elementary only school district
- High school only school district
- Unit school district (K-12)
- Wealthy school district
- Economically depressed school district
- Devices on the network
- Staff vs Student access
Of course, the list could go on. But, given the list above, think about how each of these scenarios would require a different level of internet filtering/policy. An elementary building/district would require much more stringent filtering in comparison to a high school district. A unit school district would likely side with either the elementary policy, limiting the high school further, or with the high school policy, giving more access to the elementary buildings. Wealthy school districts can afford high-quality ($$) internet filtering systems, whereas the poorer districts may rely on MBWA (management by walking around). Maybe your district has unique devices that require access to specific sites? That would need special consideration. You likely would be interested in giving your staff more access to the internet than students. This is not always possible and depends greatly on the type of system you have in place.
So, now for the crux of the issue. Should we be filtering internet for students?
Yes. Definitely yes.
We are actually required to by law. CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act), which protects students from content that is pornographic, obscene, or potentially harmful to minors, was established in 2005 as a means to protect minors from damaging material found online. But that introduces the next question: should individual districts implement filtering policies on sites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc?
Maybe. Definitely maybe.
The sites I listed above enable unprecedented levels of communication and content delivery – to the point that education wasn’t ready for it. We didn’t have time to implement policy or decide how to handle these sites before they began running rampant in our buildings. In many cases, we still haven’t – and that is our own negligence.
That said, there are plenty of times that YouTube has saved my behind when I needed to explain something that the kids just weren’t getting. And when you see sites like Khan Academy, which runs on YouTube, how could you ever consider denying that resource to students? Facebook allows them to keep in touch with their peers regarding homework assignments (yes, I’ve actually seen this happen), and helps form connections between students that may have never met. This type of interaction, however, really doesn’t need to take place in school. You can read up on my thoughts regarding Facebook and Education in one of my recent posts.
Lets look at two situations and determine how to block two of the major sites in question, Facebook and YouTube.
1. Server-based Filtering at the District Level – WITH Building Level Monitoring Software
This scenerio assumes you have district level filtering via server software (think Websense). In addition, the buildings have monitoring software (think SMART Sync) that enables staff to enable and disable internet blocks.
- Block: Facebook.com (both http and https) at the District Level
- Block: YouTube.com at the Building Level (which can be disabled when necessary).
2. Server-based Filtering at the District Level – No Building Level Monitoring Software
- Block: Facebook.com
- Unblock: YouTube.com
You may have noticed that I recommend blocking Facebook in both instances at the district level. Yes, it is that big of a deal that I find it necessary to restrict access to students. The benefits do not yet outweigh the negatives. Conversely, if you can monitor YouTube at your building, then that is ideal. If not, the benefits of YouTube far outweigh the negatives and therefore it should remain unblocked if you don’t have the choice.
This may come across as being harsh. It may be, but for those who see the affects of these social networks every day in the classroom and school environment, it is clear that something needs to change. Perhaps schools taking action and actively trying to keep students’ free time from being consumed by these networks will help kids keep their eye on what is important and develop stronger social ability instead of relying on the strength of an emoticon.
Do you agree? Let’s talk this out and see if we can find a general consensus.