Blocking software protects students, but hinders their education
Darby, and the rest of the school district, use blocking software to keep kids from prying into everything from Facebook to ‘Bikini and Swimsuit Content’. However, they leave sites like Twitter, and websites with titles such as explosives.wonderhowto.com with articles on how to make a bomb free reign. The inconsistent and ineffective use of blocking software on Darby’s internet is concerning to some, annoying to students, and vital to parents and teachers.
Hilliard City School’s internet must adhere to CIPA, the Children’s Internet Protection Act, because of the internet discount, e-rate, they receive from the government. CIPA requires public schools and libraries that benefit from e-rates to use filters and block content that is considered “obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors”. Therefore if the district wishes to continue receiving the price cut they must restrict access, which in some cases comes at the cost of education, but they, of course, are not legally required to block things like games, Instagram, or Amazon.
The district’s Chief Technology Officer, Rich Boettner, explained the district blocks sites because of the discount, to keep streaming sites from slowing the wifi down, and to satisfy parents.
“Erate is a significant source of financial support for the district. We receive over $500,000 a year from Erate,” Boettner said,”…. but again, one of the most important reasons for blocking certain content in a school is the expectation by parents and the community that we provide a safe learning environment for students.”
Darby administration is definitely holding on tightly to the filters. VPNs, apps that help you avoid banned websites, have been virtually diminished from Darby iPads. Downloading a VPN will cause apps like camera and Safari to be wiped from your tablet by the school. This is all in an effort to keep kids safe from bullying and predators, but also focused during class. Since one-to-one iPads have been released to high school students in the last year, apps that were initially widely used, but deemed distracting, like facetime and messaging, are now gone.
Faculty reassures restrictions do not hinder research, but teach students to be smart researchers. Maria Stead, the technology teacher, explained the need for students to research smart to get fully research information, while also avoiding blocked sites.
“The internet is so broad and vast and with all the good stuff out there there’s also the bad stuff,” Stead said, “…We need to teach out about responsibility on the web, we also need to protect [students].”
Yet, each blocked website has an alternative. Facebook has twitter and restricted images and videos can be downloaded at home. Especially with a wide array of gaming apps, and cellular data that is unaffected by iboss on phones, it seems if students do not want to pay attention or watch obscene things, filtered wifi will not stop them.
These restrictions, while put in place to keep students safe, may hinder their education and the ease of access to information. Students who focus projects on topics such as: video games, anatomy, addiction, body image, and more often have problems finding information when their topic includes blocked keywords. iBoss detects the word “video games” on an article titled “Video Games: What Parents Need to Know”, and ‘rape’ in “Judge Gives Indian Guru 10-Year Jail Sentence for Raping Followers.” This makes it impossible for some students to ever read these articles.
Senior Nicholas Corbett has experienced the walls that students face on certain projects, like his essay on video games.
“It’s awful because sometime I’m doing research for school and I need a website and its blocked and I have to find another site that’s not as good. It makes my paper worse,” Corbett described.
These restrictions also put some students at a disadvantage. Since most libraries must also adhere to CIPA rules students who do not have internet at home may never be able to access vital sources. The district breaks its nondiscrimination statement of ‘students shall not be denied opportunities because of their economic status’ when they cannot fully research their school projects if they’re about topics like video games or anatomy. The district seems to have has chosen a discount over inclusive learning.
Boettner explained iBoss automatically blocks websites, but it can be worked around.
“… there is no intent to block educational content from students. Unfortunately, because there are millions of websites, sometimes the system will automatically block a worthwhile page. Teachers have the ability to request a site to be unblocked when we find that this has happened,” Boettner clarified.
Wednesday, September 27th is Banned Website Awareness Day, a day created by the American Association of School Librarians in hopes of highlighting the effects that restricted website access has on education. It falls during Banned Book Week, the last, and now outdated in Hilliard, fight for free access and education in schools. Maybe during September reflect on the real reasons you are being protected.