Public access to school computers raises questions


Opening school computer labs for community access raises some concerns.
Opening school computer labs for community access raises some concerns.


A move that will let schools use federal e-Rate funds to help their stakeholders get online by opening up their computer labs to the community after school hours has left some educators wondering how schools might let adults view age-appropriate web sites while still protecting children from inappropriate content.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Feb. 18 approved a motion allowing school systems to let members of their community use e-Rate funded infrastructure after school hours (see “Education goals in National Broadband Plan revealed“). The FCC’s order waives the rule requiring schools to use e-Rate funded equipment and services only for “educational purposes,” and it’s part of the agency’s larger strategy to deliver broadband access to more Americans.

How to implement the new ruling was left to each school’s discretion, and schools will have to do so without the benefit of additional e-Rate funds, the FCC said.

Schools don’t have to take advantage of the rule change, an FCC spokeswoman said–but those that do must continue to adhere to the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which requires e-Rate recipients to use “technology protection measures” to keep minors from accessing inappropriate content.

“This action will leverage Universal Service funding to serve a larger population at no increased cost to the e-Rate program,” the agency said in a statement. “If a school chooses to allow community access, the general public will be able to use the internet access already present in schools for purposes such as job searches and applications, digital literacy programs, and online access to governmental services and resources. Increasing community access to the internet is particularly critical in communities where residential adoption of broadband internet access has historically lagged, including many rural, minority, and tribal communities.”

But the ruling has raised several questions for school leaders.

“My biggest question is, how are we going to pay someone to supervise these computer labs after hours?” wrote Linda Hinton, the technology director for Colorado’s Monte Vista School District, in an eMail message to eSchool News. “We are letting district staff go because of state cuts in funding. We don’t have any funds for this. I guess if the salary was e-Rate discountable, we could handle it.”

Laura Ascione

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