Trustees need your feedback on whether the Board should start filtering access to web content in our buildings.
At the Board meeting on Mar 19th, CIO Smith presented HDSB #14048 Internet Filter Recommendation: Be it resolved that HDSB approve the acquisition and installation of an Internet Filter and annual subscription not to exceed $100,000 per year.
Veteran reporter, Tim Whitnell, covered the issue in these two articles:
- http://www.insidehalton.com/news-story/4413571-mother-shocked-son-able-to-access-pornography-on-school-computer/ Mar 14th
- http://www.insidehalton.com/news-story/4417971-halton-public-school-board-to-consider-installing-wifi-filter/ Mar 18th
Following two separate incidents of boys in elementary schools in Burlington and Milton accessing pornography, CIO Smith wrote the recommendation for trustees to decide if the HDSB should start filtering. Previously, the question of whether or not to filter was decided by the Director and never brought to the Board table.
As you reflect upon the concerns raised, how would you like your trustee to vote: yes or no? Please feel free to write a comment below. If you prefer to comment anonymously, please email me at email@example.com or contact your Trustee directly.
Here are some PRELIMINARY CONSIDERATIONS that I have brainstormed:
PRO (In favour of Filtering):
- The school board has a legal duty to provide for the safety of its students; the law compels parents to send their children to school; the school board stands in loco parentis to the child and exercises the legal authority to guide, direct and keep the child safe.
- While doing research at school, students may inadvertently stumble on inappropriate sites and be traumatized by them.
- Accidental exposure to some content may provoke curiosity and encourage inappropriate behaviour.
- How is using a Filter any different than how the school board currently controls what books, magazines, etc. are made available in our school libraries?
- With the HDSB’s expansion of wireless connectivity, students can access the HDSB wireless from areas outside of the classroom now (hallways, washrooms, etc.) where students are not supervised.
- Teachers, while doing their best, cannot monitor all screens during computer lab time as well as teach, answer questions and direct the student learning.
- Close teacher supervision is impossible during elementary nutrition breaks or during high school lunch or spare periods.
- Some parents use a Filter at home and if the school board does not Filter, those students may actively search for opportunities to explore inappropriate sites and share them with their fellow students.
- It is irrelevant what students can access through their cell phones. Those students’ parents provided those cell phones and bear the responsibility for what happens with their use.
- Without a Filter, does the HDSB have the manpower to monitor which devices (IP address) visit inappropriate sites and then consequence the abuser accordingly? How much time is spent monitoring usage by central staff now? Wouldn’t IT staff time be better spent providing IT support to schools?
CON (against Filtering)
- The HDSB has an IT Code of Conduct Acceptable Use Procedure for Information and Communication Technology (ICT), that students/parents are informed/reminded about every September. It is very important that our students learn to be good Digital Citizens; be it to not participate in cyber bullying, to not visit inappropriate sites, etc. Our goal is to teach and support learning.
- HDSB staff are responsible for supervising students. Technology enhances teaching, but students must continue to be supervised when using technology. Accidental exposure to inappropriate content may happen, but students must be taught expected protocol to follow when that happens. They’ll also learn strategies to search the internet while decreasing those risks.
- Filtering will not prevent students from accessing inappropriate content through external networks (cell phones). Currently, personal devices vastly outnumber school-supplied devices in Ward 6 Burlington schools. Filtering may cause a rapid increase in the number of parents asked by their child to provide data plans on their child’s cell phones. One of public education’s goals is to provide equity for our students regardless of their family’s socio-economics.
- Filtering may encourage students to bring inappropriate content on their personal device or a usb stick to school and flaunt it.
- Filtering will not prevent students from sharing inappropriate content through email, Google Docs, etc.
- Filtering is a one-size-fits-all type of solution. A site that is deemed a risk for a Grade 3 student may be completely appropriate for a Grade 8 student.
- Even if the Filter could block content according to grade level, there are students working above and below grade level in almost every classroom. That is why ‘differentiation’ is such a big issue in education these days. Can the Filter be programmed individually? If so, who would do it and how time consuming would it be?
- Over-filtering may prevent students from visiting websites with valuable learning content. Will parents be consulted about which categories will be blocked? (dating, abortion, alternative beliefs, LGBTQ, addictions, etc.)
- Students needing to research LGBTQ, safe sex, STD symptoms, etc. may only feel safe doing so at school. Vulnerable students need access to information in public schools. Filtering is notorious for casting a wide net and erring on the side of caution.
- No Filter is 100% effective at blocking inappropriate content, so Filtering may provide parents (and staff) with a false sense of security. It may lead teachers to be less vigilant in supervising student computer use if they feel that the Filter is doing it for them.
- If a Filter is used at home, will those parents expect the same categories to be blocked at the HDSB and then be upset to learn their child can access a site at the HDSB that they don’t want their child to visit? Is this a manageable expectation?
- If students are determined to visit inappropriate sites, they will find opportunities to do so. Moreover, some students will take it as a personal challenge to override the Filter and proxies. To prove their success, those students would need to show the porn they accessed to other students. This would increase the viewing of porn.
- In 2008 and 2009, Bill 128 and Bill 202 were proposed to force Filtering on all school and public library computers. While the Bills were not passed into legislation, the Ontario Library Association and the Federation of Ontario Public Libraries voiced their strong opposition to such legislation. http://www.accessola.org/OLAWEB/Issues_Advocacy/Internet_Filtering.aspx?&WebsiteKey=397368c8-7910-4dfe-807f-9eeb1068be31&hkey=2a77ed88-16f6-4421-ad1b-d78028a82108
- Over the past 4 years, the Ministry of Education has consistently cut funding for technology each year. Parents in our schools sacrifice time, energy and cash to fundraise the money to supplement school technology budgets. Board IT dollars should be spent supporting student learning, not wasted on Filtering to control the behaviours of a few students. I have left the issue of cost for last because even if Filters were free, I feel their use is worthy of a debate.
These are MY preliminary thoughts about each side of the argument. As always, I will continue to research this issue before coming to a conclusion about how I should vote. A friend has referred me to: http://www.fepproject.org/factsheets/filtering.html
For your reference, here are two background HDSB documents:
I would really appreciate hearing your opinion on this matter. It would be very helpful to hear from parents who have siblings in both elementary and secondary schools as the concerns are different. Please feel free to contact me directly or your Trustee before we vote.