When it comes to filtering the internet in schools, safety versus accessibility seems to be the center of the debate. How do we keep our kids safe while giving them access to learn important 21st Century technology skills? As I searched for my district’s filtering policy, I realized it was not easy to find. While the district’s Responsible Use Policy is available on the school website, the internet filtering policy is not readily available on the school website, staff intranet or staff share drives. After requesting a copy of our current filtering policy from the technology department and my school librarian, I was sent a document titled Board Policy on Internet Filtering. This resource was a summary of the responsible use policy with one paragraph on filtering. There is not a written policy that defines what categories get filtered available to staff or the community.
Our district filtering policy follows the CIPA guidelines, which requires districts to implement internet safety measures in prerequisite to receiving universal service discount rates. The written filtering policy for my district can be found below.
“Each district computer with internet access and the district’s network systems shall have filtering devices or software that blocks access to visual depictions that are obscene, pornographic, inappropriate for students, or harmful to minors, as defined by the federal Children’s Internet Protection Act and as determined by the Superintendent or designee.
The Superintendent or designee shall enforce the use of such filtering devices. Upon approval from the Superintendent or designee, an administrator, supervisor, or other authorized person may disable the filtering device for bona fide research or other lawful purpose.”
The policy does not specifically state what is inappropriate and will be blocked. In fact, the filtering service was updated this past December to block more sites than before. This really puts teachers at a disadvantage for using great resources without a great amount of advanced planning. On a positive note, filtering is different for students and teachers. Teachers have access to more sites including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter while students do not have access to any of these websites.
The company we use for filtering determines what gets filtered and teachers can request a site to get unblocked by providing a strong instructional objective to its use. The decision is then made by one of four district systems administrators. Unfortunately the process tends to be slow. I created a space webquest for my students using Google sites, which was blocked. It was unblocked a week after we finished the unit of study.
Bud Hunt, Joe Wood and Mike Gras discussed how their districts utilize internet filters during the video discussion for this unit. The statement that stood out the most to me in the discussion came from Joe Wood when he said, “It’s not about filtering, it’s about teaching kids appropriate behaviors.” Our students love using technology but they do not know the importance of being safe online or which of their behaviors are unsafe. Students will either find a way to view inappropriate material or be exposed to inappropriate at school or home. We need to teach them how to respond when something inappropriate appears.
I just conducted this type of lesson with my students this week. My 7th grade science students are becoming the teachers as they research different body systems then plan to teach their peers about this topic. First, I taught my students how to search for images licensed for reuse using the advanced search feature in Google. Then we talked about what to do when, not if, images appeared that may be inappropriate. I explained that with a topic like body systems, inappropriate images were more likely to appear. This is also an important lesson for schools with a BYOD policy. Students may have access to the school’s network but students often choose against the network connection for a variety of reasons including speed of access and internet filters. As students made videos for their presentations, they wanted to email them to me so I could put them in their school share drive for editing. Email is one thing that is blocked for our students when using a school network connection.
I don’t necessarily think that our parents and students need to know the specific filtering policies of the district but something should be included in our Responsible Use Policy. Below you will find my edited version of my school’s RUP including the two paragraphs about our filtering practices.
RESPONSIBLE USE AND DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP
Respect Yourself: Select online names, language/content and posts that are educationally appropriate.
Protect Yourself: Do not publish personal details, contact details or a schedule of activities. Students and employees should not have an expectation of privacy when using district technology resources.
Respect Others: Do not use technology to bully or tease other people. Do not make video/audio recordings or take pictures of students/employees without their prior permission. Posing as someone else is forbidden.
Protect Others: Maintain a safe computing environment by using the content filtering solution put in place to prevent access to sites that may contain inappropriate material and notify appropriate officials of inappropriate behavior and content, vulnerabilities, risks and breaches involving district technology resources.
Respect and Protect Intellectual Property: Suitable cite any and all use of websites, books, media, etc. and respect all copyrights. Request to use the software and media that others produce.
This video gives one school’s view on filtering. Check out this great conversation on access vs. liability.
After watching this video I wanted to check out the Urbana School district RUP. The first thing I noticed was that it was six pages long! However, it restates information in different sections throughout the policy. A summary of the Urbana School district RUP would be the same as my edited version above. I would definitely recommend they shorten their RUP by not restating the same policies in different parts of the document.
I also checked out the RUP of a district in Norman, OK. I really liked this sites detail in their policies. It lists the specific categories that are filtered in the picture below. All of the policies I looked at focused on CIPA laws as their focus but also shopping and gaming sites. I found it very interesting that this district does not block those two categories of websites as well as instant chat. This district seems to believe in more access over the possibility of liability.
Which side of the issue do you fall on? Do you think it is more important to give access and teach our students to be responsible or should safety and liability be at the front of our minds?