The Debate on Website Blocking in Schools

Website blocking in schools has been a divisive subject since its inception, with some claiming it stifles student freedom and creativity, and others claiming that schools have a moral imperative to protect students from obscene or offensive content. Here, the educational technology professionals at Schoolmart present both sides of the website blocking debate.

The Case for Blocking Websites in School

According to the American Association of School Libraries, 98% of schools in the United States use filtering software to restrict student access to certain online content. These filters are meant to prohibit students from accessing content that may be “obscene or harmful to minors.” This includes pornography, violent images or videos, racist or anti-Semitic content and more. Some school administrators also use filters due to concerns regarding cyberbullying, scammers, spammers, data breaches and illegal file sharing.

While the main reasons for blocking websites at school are moral, there is also a financial element. To receive broadband internet at a discounted federal rate, schools must agree to filter online content as per the conditions stated within the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), signed into law by Congress in 2000. In order to prevent the loss of these federal discounts, the vast majority of U.S. schools block harmful and offensive online content.

The Case Against Blocking Websites in School

Although CIPA was intended to protect children at school, there are concerns that the filtration guidelines set within the act are too broad, preventing sites that have the potential to be educationally useful from being accessed by students and teachers alike. The American Association of School Librarians has released public statements claiming that website blocking standards in public schools across the U.S. are too restrictive and that the guidelines do “the next generation of digital citizens a disservice,” as it stifles creative avenues for learning and inhibits student’s ability to learn how to determine legitimate and illegitimate content independently. The statement also claims that social media, which is blocked by most school filters, is a tool that can “make school more relevant to students and enhance learning experiences.”

A practical concern of blocking websites in school is that today’s tech-savvy students are increasingly able to bypass these filters with relative ease. In 2013, for example, more than 200 Los Angeles high school students bypassed the filters on their school-provided iPads less than a week after they were distributed, with some students forming a sort of “black market,” charging other students two dollars to “hack” their iPad. Examples of this sort of behavior can be seen across the country, and so the question remains—if website blocking systems are easily bypassed by students, should they exist at all?

Solutions to the Website Blocking Dilemma

While there is no correct answer to the issue, it is clear that some educational and enriching online content is blocked by school filtration systems. It is also evident that there is a wide array of online content that would not be appropriate for student consumption. Some have suggested that schools do away with filtration software altogether, and instead teach students to be responsible digital citizens that understand the difference between safe and unsafe content. Others have suggested that teachers be given access to bypass codes that allow them to access certain content for the purpose of a lesson or demonstration. Whatever the solution, for the time being, many schools are unlikely to risk losing their discounted internet services for the sake of removing website-blocking programs, and so it is likely that change will need to occur at the federal level for a major shift away from website blocking to occur at a nationwide level.

Schoolmart’s Stance on Educational Technology

Although digital technology can present challenges and dilemmas to the educational system, there is no doubt that it holds extraordinary ability to facilitate education in innovative and exciting ways. At Schoolmart, we carry a wide range of educational tools, games and devices that help bring the classroom to life. To learn more about our products, contact us today!