The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requires Internet filtering controls in schools to be applied to block obscene images, child pornography, or other images that could be harmful to minors.
Compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act is not mandatory, but a lack of Internet filtering controls in schools means that it is not possible to receive discounts under the e-rate program – an initiative that makes telecommunications and Internet services more affordable for schools. The discounts are considerable. Schools can reduce their telecommunications costs by up to 90%.
Consequently, many schools choose to comply with CIPA and apply Internet filtering controls to block inappropriate website content. However, Internet filtering controls in schools are often overly restrictive, and are not only used to block obscene content, but other material with important educational value.
A recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island, has revealed that many schools are choosing to use their Internet filters to block a broad range of website content – Far more than is necessary to comply with CIPA.
The latest report is a follow-on study from a 2013 investigation into Internet filtering controls in schools in Rhode Island. Four years ago, the ACLU study found that teachers were being hampered by Internet filters and prevented from using the Internet to educate students. Students were also blocked from accessing information relevant to their studies.
Since that initial report was released, the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) released guidance for schools on Internet filtering, following the passage of a new state law that required Internet filtering controls in schools to foster academic freedom.
For the latest report, ACLU requested copies of Internet filtering policies from school districts to determine whether state laws were being followed and if Internet filtering controls in schools had improved following the model policy issued by RIDE.
33 school districts responded to the request, but only five of the schools had an Internet filtering policy in place, and out of those five, three were not in compliance with the new state law.
Critics of Internet filtering controls in schools often point out that in an effort to block obscene and sexual content, topics such as sex education are accidentally blocked. However, the report suggests that the blocking of such content by Rhode Island schools was not always accidental.
It is important for children to be able to have their questions answered on sex. Schools are often the only places where children can access such educational content. UCLU found that it was common for sex education content to be blocked by filters in Rhode Island schools.
Other topics that were commonly blocked were material related to drugs, tobacco, alcohol, terrorism, and religion. ACLU pointed out that the Internet filtering controls prevented students from researching topics such as the medicinal use of marijuana, fetal alcohol syndrome, abortion, or the opioid epidemic in the United States.
Some schools had even more restrictive filers in place that prevented students and staff from accessing topics such as hobbies, dictionaries, news and political websites, humor and information about alternative sexual lifestyles.
The Internet filtering law in Rhode Island requires schools to have an Internet filtering policy that explains why a particular category of website content is blocked to ensure transparency, and to list who is responsible for making the decision about blocking that category.
A mechanism must also be put in place that allows staff and students to request the lifting of a block (whitelisting a website for example) to allow educational content to be accessed. Yet the report showed that in many cases, staff and students had to wait for excessively long periods before their request was honored.
The law requires a list to be maintained of all requests and for those lists to be assessed annually to determine whether filtering controls need to be altered. RIDE’s model Internet filtering policy must also be adopted to ensure academic freedom.
ACLU said, “Without adoption and implementation of strong policies across the board, we will continue to see an array of issues involving the over-filtering of our schools’ Internet systems, which will continue to negatively impact students from accessing information and teachers from making use of helpful educational tools.”
Using a clunky system that blocks valuable content will be damaging to children’s education. Internet content filtering in schools is important, but it is also important for a technological control to be implemented that is not overly restrictive.
With WebTitan, it is possible to block obscene content and to comply with CIPA, without restricting access to important educational content. Category filters are accurate, and thanks to highly granular controls, adjusting filtering settings is a quick and straightforward process. With WebTitan, schools can quickly fine tune their filters and process staff and student requests to unblock content and comply with both CIPA and state laws.
If you are looking for an alternative solution that allows you to carefully control the content that can be accessed over the Internet by staff and students, that allows different controls to be applied for different users and user groups and is easy to use, contact the TitanHQ team today and find out about the difference WebTitan can make.