For Safety’s Sake

Spotify, Wikipedia, the color blue. What do all of these things have in common? They are all blocked on Ridgewood school computers. The school’s efforts to protect their students from supposedly harmful websites have been way too extreme in the past year. So much so that the impact on schoolwork across Ridgewood  schools has been affected, even though the goal is to only protect students from inappropriate websites. As a BF 8th grader stated, “What could be a quick trip to find an outside source has become an hour-long search for an impossibly unblocked website to find a quote or information.”

Administrators and policymakers argue that web browsers are reasonable to ensure safety against things such as cyber-bullying, security breaches, undesirable content, and more. There are many reasons why multiple sources are blocked. Many students get distracted during projects or assignments by playing games and doing other things that are unrelated to school. A teacher from the BF middle school states “Students can be distracted in class if they have access to sites that are not related to their school work (i.e, games).” Many argue that the heavy guidelines set on web filters are to monitor what students and minors can access. But recently, these filters have gotten way too protective.

So, the question is, are web filters more than protecting students? The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) mandates that all schools and libraries must block or censor obscene content. These laws have been passed to manage multiple school networks.1 However, as technology advances and the world relies more heavily on the internet, districts have confused harmless materials with inappropriate ones. BF vice principal Mr. Wu said, “When you guys find something it is up to you to make your own judgements. I do believe there are too many blocked sites and if you can’t access it here you’re going to be able to access it at home anyway. Sites being blocked are more detrimental than beneficial.”  The overprotectiveness many education industries have newly instilled begs the question of if internet policies even have student’s best interests in mind?  

In Ridgewood, the most recently blocked websites include spotify, wikipedia, and many other sources. These new restrictions create difficulty when trying to complete assignments or school related work. A New York Times article stated, “Just recently I was doing a project on Super Smash Bros. and its history for web design. I could not even get to the REAL website which gives information from the creator and what will happen next with the game. For this I had to change my topic to something I was not really wanting to learn more on.”2

This highlights how school policies on software cause a lack of available resources for students to get information from .This ultimately affects the creativity and accuracy of school work. Not only do these laws hurt students’ performance in school, but also teachers’ overall workflow. Mrs.Morris attested to this by saying, “I think there are times where I find a great website and the district has it blocked.  That can be a bit frustrating for a teacher.” These restrictions are causing more of an issue than many people might think. Many people in the Ridgewood education industry feel like they don’t have enough freedom when browsing the internet whether it is for research purposes, free time exploring,etc. 

One site that has caused the students to break another school rule is spotify. Due to the fact that Spotify is no longer available on the school chromebooks, students use cell phones. These phones are already not allowed out in school, but if somebody uses wireless earbuds with a play button, the phone cannot be taken away as it is still in their bag. Music in school is extremely helpful to students who often engage in  conversations when they are supposed to be doing work. If these students are listening to music, the conversation is either brief, or doesn’t happen at all. The music blocks out all the noise in the classroom and allows students to be focused on their work for much longer periods of time. The younger generations have much shorter attention spans than their parents. Forbes states that The average attention span in 2000 was 12 seconds, and in 2015 it was about 8 seconds, which is shorter than the average of a goldfish. Music in school is a great way to fix the issue. The lack of focus in school leads to less homework, which is the number one cause of stress in teens.

Another issue that seems to occur involving inconvenient sites that happen to be blocked are many images. There are a very large number of photos that are blocked including colors and images that need to be accessed for school projects. The website nashuprour states “But perhaps the greatest frustration comes when students are researching images.  When trying to get an image for a project or just to add to a presentation, rarely do we have access to relevant images.”(uproar) As this shows many people, not just in Ridgewood, are upset about this issue. 

Many students are bothered by the fact that their searches are getting limited because of all the blocked websites and images.  The search for the right image can then extend into long periods of time because so many school appropriate images are blocked. If someone were to look up a color, there would be pictures that are blocked, so think about if you looked up a more serious topic. There would be so many images not accessible. Even some recent issues have several images blocked, for example if you look up Ukraine vs. Russia and go to images, there are several that are blocked. There could be an argument made that the filtering of “graphic” images is worse than it is with websites.

Furthermore, students are doing almost anything to get around the school’s restrictions, even though it is usually not for school purposes. People in the school have taken time out of their day to look for a way to get signed out of the monitored Google account in a new window. These students are finding solutions with several steps just to get around some restrictions that are only supposed to block sites that are not appropriate for schools. Afterwards, these kids share the method with most of the students in their grade. This makes it clear that most students believe that the browsers in the school negatively impact them, because if they didn’t they wouldn’t find these ways around filters. This proves that the  rules that are being enforced are having the opposite effect of what was originally intended.

While many educators claim that web filters help keep students on track with school work and protect them from explicit searches, these web filters are becoming too overly restrictive. Now, students go out of their way to find resources that shouldn’t even be blocked in the first place. These restrictions limit students and faculties ability to access educational sources and information that helps them complete projects, assignments, and more. With this in mind, it has been argued that web filters are too strict and the administration needs to realize that web filters are more harmful than good.