How students get around web filters, and how schools can stop it

By Bridget McCrea
November 11th, 2015

Students are technology are getting smarter. And schools need to stay a step ahead

web-filteringChristine Durso knew she was onto something when she saw how easily her 16-year-old daughter was able to work around a Facebook web filter installed by her school.

“She came up with a pretty creative way to utilize the social networking site on the device she uses in the classroom to fulfill her Individualized Education Program (IEP),” said Durso, instructional technologist at The Speyer Legacy School in New York. The inventive teen simply installed the Facebook application on her device and, without the use of a web browser, was able to post various links to websites that she wanted to visit. “She basically just created her own browser using Facebook.”

The level of creativity was both impressive and alarming for Durso, who knows that her daughter is one of many K-12 students who are finding ways to circumvent school-instituted web filters. By screening incoming web pages to determine whether some or all of them should (or shouldn’t) be displayed to the user, web filters help institutions comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). The act requires schools and libraries using E-Rate discounts to have appropriate measures in place to protect students from obscene or harmful online content, thus limiting children’s exposure to explicit content online.

As the number of one-to-one implementations in the K-12 space has grown, the need for good web filtering has also increased. At Tustin Unified School District in Tustin, Calif., Robert Craven, senior technology director, has overseen one-to-one implementations at five different school districts. Each one of those implementations came with new filtering challenges. “It’s one of those things where no matter what we do, kids want to find workarounds,” said Craven. “This is a problem that every district has with one-to-one, and our IT team basically just tries to stay one step ahead of the students.”

Next page: Red flags to watch