Actually we are a small school, so we share resources with other schools around us and we are probably blocked there as well. I know it worked last school year, but not this year. Soon, our filter will have the internet so whittled down, that we will store a paper copy of the webpages approved by the filter.

Tags: filters, safety, secondary, socialnetworking

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Our school blocks a lot of sites that we could use. They dont want the kids playing any games. Even the math, and reading games that would help them. Or like Ning it is blocked because of socialnetworking. This becomes very hard to teach some of the things they need to know for collage because of the blocking.
As a technology coordinator of a smaller to medium sized district I can sympathize with both sides on this. Its frustrating for the teachers when they find a useful site and it ends up being blocked, and the tech people are walking a thin line in trying to comply with federal regulations so that they can keep their erate funding, protect their students from online predators and handle their bandwidth all while keeping valuable tools available. Also, you have to realize that many times the tech people just don't know. There are millions of sites out that can be valuable tools and there are even more that can be harmful. You can't expect the tech people to spend all their time going through and looking for teaching tools that are blocked and adding them to their exceptions list.

Just let them know, but don't just say "hey, i need this site unblocked!" Be specific and tell them exactly WHY you'd like to have the site allowed and HOW you plan to use it. Realize that a lot of the unblock request they get are "can you unblock soandso.blogger.com so I can see pictures of my niece" and other non-educational fluff, so they are used to saying no. I'm not promising that this will always work, there are always those people out there on a power trip who use the filter to boost their ego's, but for a reasonable tech person a good WHY and HOW presentation should be enough for them to spend a few minutes adding an exception to their filter.

If you're looking to get classroom20.com unblocked don't expect them to unblock all of ning.com. There's a lot of bad stuff on ning, but if they just unblock classroom20.ning.com, api.ning.com and static.ning.com everything will work fine. After that if you find other useful nings just adding the ning subdomain of those sites will suffice (i.e. educationalsite.ning.com).
I can feel your pain. Check the message I left for you
Ah, a thread after my own heart! And it's nice hearing the official "nannies" (the ones forced to by law) explain the line they have to walk, too. Freaking FCC.

I have a couple of recent blog entries of the problems I've been facing at my school, if anyone's interested:

Part One
Part Two

Ugh! Makes me sooooo mad!


Thought this was appropriate.

Source
While it is mandated that in order to receive e-rate funding, that schools have an internet filter in place, they do not actually tell you what sites need to be blocked. In our case, (we use e86 filter system), our filter system in on-site. The filter company adds "questionable" sites to at least one of the pre-defined categories (there are actually quite a few categories and sub categories). We have the option of either blocking or allowing each of the categories Some examples: Adult Content is a main category, with sub categories like Pornogophy, Dating, etc., it is possible for us to block all Adult Content, or we can block each of the sub categories as we see fit, thus allowing any category that we see as appropriate. ( Actually all filter systems are more or less based on this same type of structure). We get our internet filter system from our state based service (WiscNet), but we have always had control over what was blocked (although we went with the default setup - which is the safest but most restrictive setup). When our filter was off site, filtering was a one size fits all, where either everyone got the site or everyone was blocked. There was no real way allowing teachers one access and students another. That is why this year we opted for the on-site option ( which was about 800.00 for initial setup, with yearly costs the same ). With the on site service, it is now possible to do authentication to the filter, which allows us to have different levels of access for users. So now this year the teachers have different access rights than students.

I take care of our filter, and have ever since we first got it. It can be a very time intensive job, which is why we always went with the default setup. I expect that this is the reason why so many people are blocked from sites they feel shouldn't be blocked. In the past, when I did have to go in and allow some specific sites, a lot of the times we had other teachers asking for the site to be blocked, so it can be a lot tougher than one thinks. This year we have opened up almost all categories (except what they call CIPA minimum) for the teachers, and have opened a lot of what used to be blocked for most students. While a lot of the teachers like the new freedom that they and their students have, we have others that want to have a lot of the sites now open to be blocked again.

We filter youtube for students, but not for teachers. What some people don't realize is that watching youtube videos (actually any videos), listening to music, etc can take up a lot of bandwidth. We have a 5MB internet connection, and theoretically 5 teachers could use all of our bandwidth by watching youtube videos (at the same time). So a lot of the filtering that is taking place, keeps your internet working faster.

I also think a lot of school districts are afraid of potential lawsuits that might arise if something inappropriate does get through, that it is just easier to block anything that can be questionable (if its in the filter). What most don't realize, is that the list is based off of not only what was found as inappropriate, but also what other schools wanted blocked for whatever reason.

When it comes right down to it, it is your school / District that determines what level of filtering you have. Whether they want to get involved, or let the provider manage it, with no input, is up to them. As Jarod mentions above, documenting the sites and why you need access to them and then presenting them to the powers that be, is probably the best solution. And if you still can't get access, maybe have a meeting with your superintendent and persons responsible for the filtering in your district to try and come up with a workable solution for all. The FCC only requires filtering, and not what specifically gets filtered.

Good Luck
Thanks for this, Paul.

At my school, the filter is from the local service co-op and it services several area school districts. Each district *has* to accept the first "default" set of blocks, and the categories there are anything deemed "R-rated" or "pornography" and the like...which means that the sites themselves may or may not be, of course, but might contain the word "breast" or the like.

What's added beyond that runs to several columns, and the Superintendent of each district can check more if s/he wishes...when I ran into my trouble recently, it was because the co-op was blocking even more than the basic, and it wasn't checked on our district's form (I have a copy of it). I got them to adhere to our directive, and that's at least opened up blogs.

I just started a ning for the faculty at my school, and I know when I get there on Monday it will be blocked. I'll contact the co-op and try to get it unblocked. We'll see.

I'd love to have a system where the teachers' computers had less filtering than the labs'; that would be fine with me, for most things (although I still want my students to be able to do a research paper about breast cancer research, which they can only do from home now). I'm told that the co-op doesn't want to do that, however, because it's "troublesome" or something. However, my Principal says I can check on it and vie for it, and I'm going to try. :)
Webfiltering can be a challenge at best, and thanks to Jarod on his note of exceptions to get the classroom 2.0 working without unblocking to much of ning.com. I am also a technology coordinator at a small school district. And yes even though the CIPA laws are vague on some of the things to block and trust us alot to our own good jusdgement, keep in mind that is why we have the acceptiable use policy that teachers and students must sign. Yes a fear of lawsuits is always lingering in the back of ones mind because the law has "holes for Interpretation" anything can be in question.

Bandwidth is a big concern that I don't think is ever considered on the flip side. Most common users do not get the full grasp of what bandwidth really is so here is a quick analogy. Just imagine you and everyone at your school all eating a pizza. The quick email checks and webpage surfing only get a small slice. But the Videos and Music get double the size slices. There is only one size pizza and if you take the big pieces all the time, it runs out faster and less people will get a slice. So when your internet is slow, there are people around you taking alot of big slices:) We can only make the internet connections work so fast, and if everyone is watching videos and music online, then it is going to slow the whole thing down for everyone. Its not fair that you listen to music on line all day for your own pleasure and take away from the quality of the science video that the class next door is trying to watch. Bring in a radio :)

In order to try to help the teachers with blocked sites, we use Websense for filtering and it has an override feature that you can configure using active directory. The teachers can enter a password and get up to 60 mins of viewing a website. The default filter settings can make things a nightmare and this helped ease some of the burden a bit.

I understand the frustration in having good games and educational sites blocked and as stated before (again by Jarod), a well stated why and a quick review of the site are all I need to unblock 90% of sites I am asked for.

Please always try to remember that us techies are not all evil dictators, we are just doing our jobs the best we can with the rules we need to follow :)

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