Sean Webber ‘17 – Technology constantly pushes the edge of what’s possible, but even with Romeo’s sixteen million technology bond in 2012, students have reached the next technology road block: Web filtering.
Public libraries and school districts in the United States can choose to join the Universal Service Fund’s E-Rate program, which discounts their internet service. However, any organization participating in the E-Rate program must comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). This requires that any “obscene, pornagraphic, and sensitive” content be blocked on the organization’s computer network.
RCS uses the infamous Securly to comply with these requirements. However, many Romeo students feel that our web filters block much more than they are legally required to.
“While I understand why a filter is necessary, Securly in particular is overly intrusive and counterproductive,” Riley Murdock ‘15 said. “It’s hard to get work done when nearly everything providing information is blocked.”
Many students complain about Securly blocking web pages that do not contain obscene, pornagraphic, or sensitive content. This is known as the “Scunthorpe problem”, where using a broad list of “inappropriate” keywords blocks web pages that are not meant to be sensitive. Websites such as the Detroit Free Press, Mrs. Gryspeerd’s Classroom Weebly, and the all-too-popular WebMD are great examples of this.
“It just took a lot of time to unblock; [the Technology Department was] very busy,” staff member Alice Gryspeerd said. “Technology is amazing, but there are also technological problems. Sometimes you have to be patient while fixing problems.”
Busyness and patience aside, some students want to see Securly disappear from their Chromebooks, or be replaced with a better alternative.
“Personally, I’ve looked into this and have found better options,” Andrew Gottschling ‘17 said. “OpenDNS and other filtering services do a much better job of filtering, and have an actual support line behind them where users can report websites that they believe should not be blocked.”
Currently, students nor teachers are able to easily request that appropriate websites be unblocked. Securly has a button on its ‘blocked content’ page to request an unblock, but the feature has been disabled on RCS Chromebooks. Clicking on the button results in Securly saying the website has been unblocked when it really was not. This leaves students complaining to teachers about blocked websites, and teachers emailing the technology department on a per-website basis, which is inefficient and time consuming.
RCS technology director Mark Nelson stood up for Securly, noting that it caters to Romeo’s filtering needs the best.
“When we began looking for a solution to provide content filtering for mobile devices, we needed something that would work on both the Google and iOS platforms,” Mark Nelson said. “The district decided on Securly for a number of reasons. Securly is completely integrated with the Google Apps for Education environment, and OU-based policies set them apart from the competition. Securly has a very rapid development cycle, and the product is quickly evolving from a content filtering solution to an Internet shaping solution for our students and their families.”
As a system administrator of smaller scale, I agree with using a solution that works on multiple platforms (Chromebooks, iPads, etc.), and allows users to be treated differently based on their age or status. For example, a sixth grader and twelfth grader should have different privileges to the internet because their different maturity levels.
However, I question wrether it is RCS’s responsibility to block content that does not violate CIPA. Every family has different values, and trying to implement a “one size fits all” filtering policy to appease parental guardians seems like an overstep on RCS’s part. Ultimately, it falls on students and their parents guardians to uphold their family values; not the school district.
Personally, one of my greatest annoyances with Securly is the way it handles apps running in offline mode. As soon as my internet goes down, or I take my Chromebook offline, Securly generates a slew of error messages and crashes any offline apps I had open. I used to use my Chromebook to listen to music on the bus ride to school every morning, but Securly has ruined that for me.
While web filtering is necessary under federal law, RCS should make sure staff members and students have an easily, efficient means of fixing Securly’s filtering errors and programming glitches.