Blocked Websites Part Three

Happy Banned Websites Awareness Day!

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?

  1. Knowledge is power.  I need to stay informed about the laws and requirements for school internet use.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?



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Blocked Websites Part One

I have been wrestling with the issue of blocked websites in my district lately, partly because of my own frustrations with blocked content and partly because teachers are funneling their requests to have sites unblocked through me, which is proper procedure since I am the Technology Coach as well as the librarian at my school.

So far this year I have tried to use: Continue reading

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A New Chapter

Originally this post title was to have referred to the fact that I was leaving my job at Alice Drive Elementary School and doing something else.  I had become so disheartened at my failure over the years to institute any real changes in the library media schedule or program that I was ready to just give up and move on.

Enter my new principal, Mrs. Boozer.  In May I shared a heartfelt letter with her and broke the news to her that I would not be returning.  She responded to my concerns by letting me know that she had some of the same concerns herself, and that she wanted to begin making some changes that would set our Library Media program on the path to becoming a model program.  Did you hear that?  A Model Program!!!

Her first act was to take Library out of the related arts rotation, replacing it with a Math Lab.  It took blood, sweat, and prayers on her part to work out a way to staff the Math Lab, but she persisted in the face of district red tape and budget constraints until she received final approval for her plans.  Now our students are getting extra help and practice with math concepts, and our library is operating under a fully flexible schedule.

So, I want to publicly thank Mrs. Boozer for her faith in me, and to say that I’m grateful for this opportunity to serve our students, teachers, parents, and community in a new and more effective way.  I’ve rediscovered my passion for my job, and I appreciate the fresh start that this year has brought.

Let the learning begin!

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SKILLS Act Update

Please take a moment (okay, a few minutes – it’s long) to read this post from the AASL blog.  More action is needed to get school libraries into the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) bill.  SKILLS only has 5 co-sponsors (none from S.C., for those who were wondering) which means it is vulnearable to being cut from the final bill.

Basically, we need to continue calling, writing, faxing, and emailing our senators to let them know this is important.

It only takes a few moments to call the senate switchboard, ask for your Senators’ offices, and leave the message:  SUPPORT SCHOOL LIBRARIES IN ESEA!  OUR COUNTRY’S STUDENTS PERFORM BETTER IN SCHOOLS WITH SOLID SCHOOL LIBRARY PROGRAMS.

Click here to look up the contact information for your elected officials.

Update:  I forgot to include this quote from the article, which really surprised me when I read it:

Unfortunately, we have not had great support from the education unions and from other K-12 organizations.  We are competing with everything from literacy coaches to classroom teachers – even though we know that school librarians are both of these.  In the present political environment and the challenging budget climate, we have to cling to survival for our school libraries and, more importantly, the students they serve. 

Somehow I guess I expected that other professional education organizations “get” how important our school libraries are, and were fighting hard for us teacher librarians as well as for classroom teachers.  They aren’t.  It’s up to us to band together and speak out for our programs and our students.



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This is Why I Will Never Be Joyce Valenza

They say the first step is admitting you have a problem.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the new Delicious interface, and if you read it you already know that I wasn’t thrilled.  The site looks different, and some of the features have changed, and there’s some new terminology to learn.

Did you catch those key words?  New.  Different.  Change.  Oh, how many times have we shaken our heads in pity over our less-enlightened colleagues who bemoan these very things?  (tsk tsk tsk)  I thought I was above all that.

The day after I posted my reaction, I read Delicious Stacks by Joyce Valenza at her Neverending Search blog.  (Go ahead, take a moment to read it; then meet me back here.)

As you can see, Joyce immediately embraced the positive aspects of the new Delicious and began using it with her students.  She didn’t waste any time freaking out over the unfamiliarity of it; she just plunged right in and made it work for her.  That’s why she’s Joyce Valenza and I’m just me.

So I’m taking this lesson in keeping an open mind to heart, and I’ll remember my own feelings of resistance next time I’m sharing a new way of doing something with an apprehensive teacher.  I think Joyce would approve.


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A New Year of Blogging

It’s been almost a year since my last post. Where have I been all this time? Well, last year was a difficult one, both personally and professionally. In addition to dealing with some serious family issues, I was also dealing with some rather debilitating school issues, and I just didn’t have the heart either to dwell on them or ignore them in blog posts.

Sumter School DistrictThis year will be different. Very different. In Sumter County, where I work, we’ve always had two school districts. This year, those two districts merged into one. We’ve had three years to prepare, but we’re all learning that you really can’t ever be fully prepared for such a sweeping change in policies, personnel, and procedures.

We have a new superintendent this year, since the former superintendents of each district have retired. In addition to all the new department heads at the district office, our school also has a new principal. (Our former principal also retired.) We have a new assistant principal, too. (Our former assistant principal was assigned to another school.) And we have a new curriculum resource teacher. (Our former CRT became our new assistant principal.)

So the name of the game this year is “Change.” Now, I’m not opposed to change; change can be not only good, but necessary in the raipdly evolving world of education. But too much change at once, particularly when the stakeholders (i.e., the teachers) have had little or no voice in the decision-making process, can be overwhelming. It can be frustating. It can be discouraging to the point that you just want to sit down and cry.

So why do I want to start blogging again now of all times, you ask?

I’ve stated before that for me, one of the most beneficial aspects of this blog has been the time spent reflecting on what I’m doing. In an earlier post titled Fighting Burnout I said,

 “Through writing this blog I’ve come to appreciate the importance of taking time to reflect on what I’m doing in my professional life and why…. I can see the benefit of including more posts here about what is working in my library, and what impact I’m having on the students I see each week. I need to remember why I became a school librarian in the first place, and resolve to keep that at the forefront of my mind…”

This year, I want this blog to be a celebration of everything good in my library, in my school, in my district, in my state, and in education in general.  I want to focus on the positive, rejoice in the successes, and share what’s working for me in my little corner of the world. 

After all, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”  (Epictetus) 

By the way, the logo you see here is actually not exactly what our new district logo looks like.  This is the original design, but it was changed at some point (I’m not sure when), and in spite of searching the district website, several of our school websites, and Google Images, I cannot find a save-able image of the new logo.  The words “UNIFIED FOR SUCCESS” have been replaced with the words “EDUCATE*EMPOWER*ENRICH” at the bottom of the circle.  Not that it really matters to any of you readers out there, but it does give you a small taste of the way things are going for us so far this year!

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Passion + Persistence = Change

In an earlier blog post I mentioned a webinar that was offered back on April 5, 2010 at the TL Virtual Cafe entitled What it Means to Be a Change Agent in Educational Technology.  When the participants were asked to share their thoughts on what makes an educator a change agent, one consistent piece of advice was to be passionate about what you believe in and be persistent in pursing it.

If it’s true that passion can drive change, and I want to effect change at my school, then I need to be asking myself these kinds of questions:  What are my teachers passionate about?  How can I help them share that passion with their students?  And for that matter, what are my students passionate about?  And how can I help them explore and share that passion with others? 

I love this quote from John Ross at his TeachLearnTech blog:

A strong leader acts like a ladder or a scaffold, one that supports and helps teachers reach new heights.

So maybe if some of my teachers are a little afraid of heights, their passion and my persistence can make them bold enough to take a risk and make a change.

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Putting Technology In Its Place

I just read two blog posts yesterday that echo some of the ideas I’ve been wrestling with lately concerning the place of technology in the classroom, and I’d like to share them here.

Background:  As my school’s Library Media Specialist and Technology Coach, I have a responsibility to provide appropriate resources to my students and teachers, and to make sure they know how to use them.  With so many useful (and free) technology tools available out there in cyberspace, I want to make sure I’m keeping up with them, using them appropriately, and sharing them with those who need them. 

However, I don’t want to become so focused on the “coolness” of technology that I lose sight of my ultimate goal, which is student learning.  I also don’t want my attitude regarding the importance of technology to become so overbearing that I alienate teachers who, for various reasons, are hesitant about using a lot of online resources or tech tools.  I need to balance my role as a cheerleader for Web 2.0 with my role as someone who assists users with what’s actually going on in the classroom.

Enter Jennifer Wagner and Joyce Valenza, two educators who are doing wonderful things with technology at their respective schools.  Continue reading

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