School web filtering needs extreme makeover

What’s the answer?

According to the panelists, vendor web filters need more configurable options for educators and librarians.

“That’s their job–to help guide students around the internet,” said Stone. “So why are we allowing vendors to do this?”

One reason, panelists argued, is that educators and schools are afraid of lawsuits.

“There’s a misconception out there among schools that if the FCC or government catches them being non-CIPA compliant they’ll be sued,” said one panelist. “But that’s not true. Neither the FCC nor the government have the authority to take legal action. The worst that would happen is that the FCC would ask for the eRate funding back.”

“It’s important to note,” he added, “that in CIPA’s 10-year history, no school has ever been asked to give back funding.”

“It should be up to the educators and librarians to make those kinds of calls, to know what can be filtered and what can’t,” said Stone. “We need to put that power back into their hands.”

Christopher Harris, director of the School Library System for the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership in New York State, says that educators and librarians also need to focus more on “responsible use rather than acceptable use.”

“School policies should focus on student responsibility,” he said. “That way, they can still address individual rogue access by one student and limit that individual, not the entire student body. There needs to be a culture of flexibility and interactivity, especially concerning BYOD and social media platforms.”

Unfortunately, said Houghton-Jan, educators looking for more effective kinds of vendor filters may be disappointed. She explained that almost no vendor spends money on research and development of their web filtering products; meaning, many schools are dealing with older technology.

Martin Garner, chair of the Intellectual Freedom Committee for the ALA, said educators and schools interested in different types of filtering might soon be able to find open source software.

“We asked the question: ‘Is it possible to truly create a CIPA-compliant filter?’ What we keep circling around is some sort of crowd-sourced, open-sourced software that’s extremely configurable.”

He continued: “Because right now most of the filters schools are using are blocking things out like Google Docs and other sharing platforms. How are students supposed to become collaborators and creators of content when they can’t even access basic tools? These filters and policies are chaining us to the past instead of creating competitive, creative people.”

For its part, the ALA says it’s planning on doing a better job of spreading information on CIPA to schools and educators.

Those interested can access the symposium’s panels on ALA’s YouTube channel:

A white paper on CIPA and the symposium’s outcomes will also be released this fall.

Meris Stansbury

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