As I mentioned in a previous post, our district Internet filters seem tighter than ever this year, and the results are that a lot of sites with educational value are being blocked for teachers and students alike.
I’ve been doing some research on the reasons for these tight site restrictions. Let’s follow the trail and get the facts:
- S.C. K-12 School Technology Initiative (SCK12STI): “The South Carolina K-12 School Technology Initiative was founded in 1996 as part of the General Assembly’s proactive approach to addressing technology infrastructure, connectivity and education in schools throughout the state.”
From their website we learn that “The Educational Rate (E-Rate) Program was instituted under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to expand Internet and telecommunication connectivity for schools and libraries.” It is also known as the Schools and Library Program, and was designed to provide, among other things, Internet access to schools at discounted rates.
- The Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) is the administrator for the E-rate program and is responsible for “processing applications for support, confirming eligibility, and reimbursing telecommunications companies and Internet access providers for discounted services delivered to eligible schools and libraries.”
According to their website, schools who apply for these funds must have an approved Technology Plan in place that describes “Clear goals and a realistic strategy for using telecommunications and information technology to improve education or library services” and “A professional development strategy to ensure that members of the staff know how to use these new technologies to improve education or library services.”
- Schools who wish to qualify for E-rate discounts must also comply with the Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA). The CIPA Compliance Checklist guides schools through those requirements.
From the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) website we learn that CIPA “was enacted by Congress in 2000 to address concerns about children’s access to obscene or harmful content over the Internet. CIPA imposes [the following] requirements on schools or libraries that receive discounts for Internet access through the E-rate program:
Schools must certify that they have an Internet safety policy that includes technology protection measures.
The protection measures must block or filter Internet access to pictures that are: (a) obscene; (b) child pornography; or (c) harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors).
Schools subject to CIPA have two additional certification requirements:
1) their Internet safety policies must include monitoring the online activities of minors; and
2) as required by the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act, they must provide for educating minors about appropriate online behavior, including interacting with other individuals on social networking websites and in chat rooms, and cyberbullying awareness and response. (This is apparently why all of our district’s teachers were asked to conduct an Internet safety lesson with their students this month, and turn in a signed document stating that they had indeed done so.)
- At the E-rate Central website we find this E-rate Primer which provides more information about the filtering requirements:
Filtering is required for all of an E-rate recipient’s Internet-enabled computers whether used by minors or adults. For E-rate funding purposes, filtering for adult Internet usage can be disabled for “bona fide research or other lawful purpose.”
So there you have it. I’ve shared the primary source documents that I’ve been poring over for the past few days in order to familiarize myself with the whole filtering backstory. Did I already know most of this? Yes. But rather than relying on hearsay, I wanted to read it for myself.
Now that I know what the documents say, I need to understand how they are being interpreted, and whether they are being interpreted correctly. More to come this weekend…