When School Web Filtering Comes Home

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Schools that receive discounts for Internet access through the federal E-rate funding are required to implement a number of measures, like creating an Internet safety policy and filtering and blocking access to certain types of online content. To that end, The Children's Internet Protection Act, CIPA, addresses concerns about the type of online materials that children can access at school.

We've written several times about some of the frustration and confusion that CIPA and filtering causes, and we've talked to the Department of Education's Karen Cator for clarification about what the law really requires.

But as more schools begin to implement one-to-one computer programs, providing each student with a laptop or a net-book or even an iPad, there are new wrinkles in thinking about CIPA. After all, these devices are meant to be used at school and at home.

Currently most schools filter their network. There are a number of ways in which they do this, and a number of companies that they turn to for the technology to do so.

But if schools are just filtering the Internet on the premises, what happens when students take their computers home? How do schools monitor or block access to Web sites when students are using their school-provided laptops on their family's home networks? And are they even required to do so?

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Some schools with one-to-one programs have installed filtering software onto the devices they send home. Such is the case beginning this year for the laptops that are distributed to students in Casper, Wyoming's Natrona County School District. The school district has had a one-to-one program for a number of years. In the past, the permission slips that went home with the devices at the beginning of the school year made certain that parents were aware that the devices had no filtering software installed. Parents had to sign that they "accept full responsibility for supervision when my child's Internet use is not in a school setting."

But the school district has opted this year to expand its filtering efforts by adding social networking sites to the list of blocked sites, and by installing filtering software directly onto every Apple laptop that each 6th- through 12th-grader receives. That means that when those district-owned computers are at home, the filtering is still in place.

According to Mark Antrim, Associate Superintendent for Facilities and Technology, the change in the way in which Natrona County School District handles its filtering was largely a response to parents' concerns about what their children were doing on the Internet at home.

But are schools actually required to install filtering on computing devices that head home?

While CIPA does make it clear about the requirements to filter the Internet at schools and at libraries, it's not clear if this applies to the computers themselves. If schools are paying for 3G connectivity on these devices, then yes, CIPA applies. Otherwise "it's a gray area," a spokesperson from the FCC told me. The agency is working on clarifying how the rules on filtering apply in these sorts of cases.

It's going to be an increasingly important issue that the FCC tackles, particularly as one-to-one programs proliferate. As it currently stands, different schools are adopting different approaches to filtering on one-to-one devices, some opting to install software on the devices, others leaving it up to parents to monitor what kids do when they're using the computers at home.

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We'd love to hear from readers what policies come with their take-home devices.

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