Electronic School, September 2001

October marked the deadline for showing compliance—or progress toward compliance—with the federal Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Districts that are not in compliance may lose federal funding, under the provisions created by Congress and implemented by the Federal Communications Commission.

The act requires that school districts demonstrate three things:

1. They have an internet policy in place, and this policy has been shared with students, teachers, and staff;

2. They have implemented some form of filtering technology or can ensure rigorous human oversight that will keep students away from inappropriate material; and

3. They have held a public meeting or meetings to inform the greater community about what they are doing.

Each of these requirements has sub-requirements. A district’s internet-use policy must address the types of web sites students may visit, appropriate uses of eMail and chat rooms, and penalties for hacking or other unauthorized use of the computer.

The policy also must describe, in detail, the types of student information that may be disseminated on school-sponsored web sites, and these rules must comply with federal statutes.

The filtering requirement has received the most attention in the past two years, and its standards are well known. Many commercial products are available, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. Some schools are choosing to eschew filtering software and instead rely on human oversight of students’ web surfing. However, it is unclear at this time whether oversight is sufficient in federal regulators’ eyes.

Some schools propose the use of tracking software that logs each student’s web movements so they can be reviewed later for improper activity, rather than filtering software.

The requirement for a public discussion of the program creates an opportunity to remind parents to be vigilant about monitoring their children’s use of the internet at home, too, say educators. The public meeting can be integrated into a typical monthly school board or PTA meeting, but it must be well-publicized ahead of time.