Internet Filtering and Monitoring in Schools

By: Tonya Mead, PhD, MBA, M.Ed, CFE, CHFI, PI

There has been much discourse about net neutrality which means that internet service providers (ISPs) should aim to give surfers equal access to all legal content and applications “without favoring some sources or blocking others.” (para 1).

Why am I mentioning this today?

In 2016, the US Department of Commerce, an agency within the federal government turned over control of the internet to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Citing Wired, Susmita Baral of the International Business Times wrote that once the umbilical cord was cut, ” foreign governments and companies [now] have confidence that the Internet is outside of the U.S.’ control.” (para 6).

Schools and internet access

Just recently, the country of Algeria ceased internet operations for two hours in a desperate attempt to discourage k-12 students from cheating on exams.  Why such extreme measures? Last year educational officials asked internet service providers to voluntarily block social media networks. The ISPs ignored their pleas.  What resulted? Up to 300,000 students were forced to retake standardized exams related to the potential exposure to test content posted to social media sites.

Internet filtering in schools

Aggressively filtering internet content in schools is not new. In fact, there are some advocating that educational entities may have gone overboard. The Atlantic argues that filtering may hurt kids. Referencing Deborah Caldwell-Stone of the American Library Association, the driver of internet filtering has been ‘student safety.’  This is even though the  “Federal Communications Commission and representatives from the Department of Education have issued guidance stating that Facebook, YouTube, and other platforms do not need to be filtered, but school districts often block these websites “on the grounds that students might access content barred by CIPA [Children’s Internet Protection Act].” (para 8).

Internet monitoring of students while in school

In addition to baring suggestive content and inappropriate sites schools are taking additional steps to “monitor students‘ internet searches and social media posts; flag them for references that suggest such things as drug use, cyberbullying or suicide; and share students’ internet browsing histories with parents who want them.” (para 8).

What does this mean for parents and schools?

Schools endeavor to reduce the liabilities related to cyberbullying, suicide as well as the likelihood of cheating on standardized exams. Parents, likewise seek to become better informed about their child’s online activities. Neither, I believe, want to unnecessarily infringe upon anyone’s right to privacy or deny access to lawful and legal content.  How can we bridge the gap?  A few days ago, Stanford Law School announced the creation of The Center for Internet and Society. The purpose of the Center is to “track rapidly changing laws and developments shaping online speech and platform responsibility around the world.” (para 1).

When you have a moment, please help the world become the change you want to see.

Tonya J. Mead, PhD, MBA, M.Ed,CFE, CHFI, PI, formerly a certified K-12 Administrator and School Psychologist is author of Fraud in Education: Beyond the Wrong Answer and president of Shared Knowledge, LLC  If you like this article, buy her a cup of coffee. Support her work at Patreon.