Letter: Overzealous filtering service could impact distance learning

Posted 3/24/20

To the editor:

As the Barrington Public Schools (BPS) begin their new remote "distance learning" plans, Barrington teachers and students will experience greater-than-ever hinderances that have …

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Letter: Overzealous filtering service could impact distance learning

Posted

To the editor:

As the Barrington Public Schools (BPS) begin their new remote "distance learning" plans, Barrington teachers and students will experience greater-than-ever hinderances that have been put in place by the decisions of the BPS Information Technology department.

In order to receive state “E-Rate” internet funding, Rhode Island public school districts need to demonstrate that they have taken measures to restrict students’ access to sites that contain adult content. To meet this requirement, for the past 3 years, BPS has subscribed to “ContentKeeper”, a service from Cox that funnels all internet traffic through a Cox-owned proxy server. For those past years, the service has consistently hindered internet connectivity at BPS, with students facing dropped connections, sluggish speeds, and unpredictable outages. As a member of Barrington High School’s STAT team, I have attempted to help troubleshoot some of these experiences first-hand.

For better or for worse, the otherwise-premium internet service available at Barrington schools has mostly kept internet connectivity at acceptable levels, but distance learning will make the underlying problem much harder to ignore. In students’ homes, where many families do not have industrial-strength internet to act as a crutch to compensate for ContentKeeper’s shortcomings, dropped connections are more frequent and more prominent. This will only become more apparent as students come to rely on live video chat for their learning.

A more sensible and equally “E-Rate” compliant filtering solution for student laptops would block sites on the device level. One such service is iBoss, which the district has used in the past. Using a service other than ContentKeeper would also allow the district to use OSHEAN, Rhode Island’s unique institutional network provider, on campus, rather than Cox. OSHEAN is used across the state by many school districts, as well as the Ocean State Libraries Network (including the Barrington Public Library), and prominent higher-education institutions across the State, such as Brown, Roger Williams, and Rhode Island College.

The BPS Information Technology department may argue that ContentKeeper is ‘more sophisticated’ than other solutions in that no student can circumvent the filter under any circumstances. In the face of an insurmountable barrier on one digital frontier, most students will simply pick up their phone and break free of any safety rail our schools might hope to put in place. Moreover, general student success should not be minimized in the name of gaining total control over what a student can access on their school-issued device. As distance learning puts school-issued devices in the center of student success, an overzealous filtering service cannot stand in the way of our students.

CJ Hilty

Barrington

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