Admins, students need common ground on internet filter issues

Max Goldberg and Daniel Skinner

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District 127’s internet filtering system has existed for quite some time. Even though we don’t know how long, the school has had a basic filter in place for as long as internet has been accessible for students.

Either way, for as long as the school district has had a filter, the question of how much restriction is too much has also been a point of contention among students. While content blocks are somewhat necessary to a school environment, it can be easy for those filters to be too strict and make it near impossible to use the internet to its fullest educational potential.

Currently, D127 uses Lightspeed Systems as its website and search filter provider. The decision to use this specific provider was made in 2004, and was based on both good reports from nearby high school districts and the way the Lightspeed Systems filter functions.

“The content filters are automatic,” said D127 director of technology Michael Marassa. “It protects someone even if they don’t intend to find [inappropriate material].”

The current Lightspeed Systems filter the school uses involves a number of different filter categories, varying from social media to gaming sites. Under the recommended filter settings, many websites on the internet are restricted and blocked by the system by default. However, the district has the ability to alter these settings and pick and choose which sites it feels are acceptable for student use.

“Social networks are usually closed, but Twitter is now open,” said Marassa.

Marassa and other D127 tech employees receive several requests per day from both teachers and students about currently blocked websites. According to him, around 98 percent of all requests sent in are accepted by the tech department from teachers and students alike.

Both students and teachers receive most of the same blocks with only a few exceptions; teachers have access to Facebook and music media sites like Spotify and Pandora for teachers.

Administrators, on the other hand, have what is called “carte blanche” access, which means internet without restriction. Marassa states that this is because the administration is often called upon to investigate obscene or inappropriate behavior.

Marassa understands that website blocks are necessary for the school and that the administration needs controls over student access to internet, but he also believes that students learn best by making mistakes.

“The learning process is immediate, and blocks stop that natural process,” said Marassa.

This then begs the question of whether the internet block is hurting more than it’s helping.

“The reason we have the filter is to help those who don’t have a filter for themselves,” said principal Dan Landry.

The internet is a strange place, and students can accidentally come across things they did not mean to see. For those who don’t have this filter for what they should and shouldn’t be searching on school Wi-Fi, Lightspeed systems may be considered a necessary evil.

However, the world now isn’t the same as it was in 2004, with one of the big differences being the increase in the amount of cell phones allowed in the school.

If a cell phone is connected to the Wi-Fi certain apps and the web filters still apply. Even with the new cell phone rules in place that broaden the acceptable use of cell phones, students don’t have unlimited access because of the filter.

Despite all these restrictions in place, if students really want to get around the blocks, they can. Students can use proxy websites that enable them to sneak into websites.

“If it’s that important to students to go around expectations, we need to do some work,” said Landry.

Having worked as a dean at GCHS long before becoming principal, Landry has seen the inapporpriate content that students get into when no filter is present, such as pornography and other questionable sites.

One of the primary reasons why Landry justifies that current strictness of the filter is that the school is required to do so.

“There are state laws regarding authorization of school internet,” said Landry. “It’s not for commerical use.”

But it may be hard for the administration to see the filter in full effect, since they have virtually unlimited access to the internet and can un-block sites.

Every single day students are trying to use the internet. Whether it be through the Wi-Fi, on their personal devices or on the school computers, they are being blocked.

“I think the internet filter is too strict,” said senior Brenda Zador. “There have been multiple times when I needed to Google something for a school project and [I] couldn’t get information because the school blocked all the websites that came up.”

This is one of the obvious flaws of the system, that it is too encompassing.

“Sometimes things that are useful get blocked,” said junior Connor Gossell.

So where is the balance between keeping the internet safe and allowing students to get the information they need?

“Students should have the freedom to any information,” said Zador. “However, if people are doing inappropriate things with the internet, then maybe a less strict filter should be implemented.”

The answer is hard to find, but the filter as it stands presents issues that need to be thought about in more detail than they are presently.

“What’s the difference if I see [a blocked site] here at school or in a few hours at home?” said Gossell.

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Admins, students need common ground on internet filter issues