For the final post in my three-part series on my experience this year with blocked websites and the laws regarding Internet use in schools, I’d like to look at how these laws are affecting school Internet policy, and whether they’re being interpreted correctly.
My own reading of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) indicates that the law is primarily concerned with protecting minors – defined in the document as “any individual who has not attained the age of 17 years” – against “access through [school] computers to visual depictions that are obscene or child pornography.”
Computers used by adults are also required to be protected, but “An administrator, supervisor, or other person authorized by the certifying authority under subparagraph A(i) may disable the technology protecting measure concerned, during use by an adult, to enable access for bona fide research or other lawful purpose.” This seems to leave it up to individual districts to decide whether or not they will restrict teacher use of the sites the filtering software is blocking. Certainly there is nothing unlawful about the sites I’ve been denied access to so far this year, and there is no content at any of them that is remotely obscene or pornographic!
It’s also important to note that in the newly-released CIPA rule revisions, the FCC has determined that social network sites do not fall into one of the categories that must be blocked. So if districts choose to block them, that is a local decision, not a CIPA mandate.
So what does the U.S. Department of Education have to say about all of this? Let’s consult an interview with their Director of Education Technology, Karen Cator. She says:
- Providing access to YouTube is not a violation of CIPA rules
- There is nothing that says websites have to be blocked for adults
- Broad filters aren’t actually helpful; we need more nuanced filtering
- She doesn’t know of any districts who have lost funding by allowing access to appropriate sites
- If sites are found that are deemed appropriate they can be unblocked
- Having the process in place for unblocking sites is definitely important
- Teachers need to impose their professional judgement on the materials that are [made] available to their students
So, what’s the takeaway?
- Knowledge is power. I need to stay informed about the laws and requirements for school internet use.
- The best way to sound like you know what you’re talking about is to know what you’re talking about. My voice can be stronger now because I can speak with confidence about what is and is not required by law.
- The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. If I want unrestricted access to valuable web resources I must be prepared to speak up, for myself and my students.
What’s your takeaway?