All CHS students with wireless Internet access and a laptop, some 850 young Padres, have probably stumbled upon an impassable blue page that notifies that Carmel Unified School District’s web filter has blocked the entire entered website.
The content is controlled by Lightspeed Systems, a company that specializes in network management and Internet security in the field of compulsory education. CUSD has used the Lightspeed filter for about ten years; it acts as an appliance server sold to the district as a full server with the software already installed.
Lightspeed presents overall categories, which CUSD can block or allow. Then the school district can manually move sites into allowed or blocked sections, sometimes even based on teacher requests.
“The filter has done its job fairly well,” says Colin Matheson, webmaster and CUSD educational technology trainer. “There have been some issues with secure traffic.”
According to CUSD authorities, a site can be unblocked by a student only if the content has proven educational value and a teacher can act as spokesperson to the tech department.
A common protest from the student side highlights the subjective nature of deciding whether a site can be considered educational. For example, recently banned Netflix could be used by students as a research tool due to its wide variety of historical and scientific documentaries.
Along similar lines, one of France’s most vital news sites, Le Monde, could be a rich source of current event information for French students, yet the site is blocked and categorized as adult content.
Yet Lightspeed Systems claims to provide safe and fast access to educational resources without “overblocking.” The most active response to the issue of censorship on campus is usually brought about by a frustration over the blocking of YouTube.
Students who need a math tutorial, a visual aid to their chemistry experiment or an engaging review of a period in history flock to YouTube for video-learning. Once attached to the CUSD filter, those hundreds of possibilities are inaccessible.
More confusion arises over the fact that social network giant Facebook is blocked, while Twitter, a similar platform, is open to students. Both Facebook and Twitter have photo sharing and direct messaging capabilities.
Realistically, CUSD does not have full control over deciding what content students are able to pore over on the World Wide Web. Enacted by Congress in 2000, the Children’s Internet Protection Act limits public school students’ access to harmful or obscene content on the Web.
CIPA enforces that a school’s filter block pictures that contain obscenity, child pornography or material that can be harmful to minors. In addition, schools subject to the CIPA are required to monitor the online activities of minors.
“There currently isn’t a formal way of gathering student input on the filter,” Matheson says, “and that would be a good thing to organize to make the process more inclusive.”