(cross-posted from balancedfiltering.org)

Today I had an opportunity to meet with the superintendent and CIO of Oklahoma City Public Schools to discuss my concerns as a parent in the district about the overblocking of Internet websites. I had heard a great deal from other people about the district’s policies and the reasons for those policies, but it was good to meet face-to-face with district leaders and hear firsthand about their perspectives on filtering. This evening, I had an opportunity to speak for three minutes before the Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education and share my concerns. This is the transcript of the prepared statement I shared with the board, which took exactly three minutes. A loud buzzer went off at the end of the three minute period, and I felt a bit like I was on “The Gong Show” and had done poorly when it went off. I also recorded the audio of my statement using my iPhone and the free Cinch app, which I’ve embedded below. I’m hopeful my advocacy and the work of others in the district will lead to the formation of a task force (which will include parents) that can recommend changes to some of the district’s current policies on Internet filtering. MANY thanks to those who completed my online survey/request for assistance on the content filtering policies of large, urban districts. I integrated some of those results into my prepared comments this evening.

Chairperson Monson, Members of the board and Mr Springer, I appreciate this opportunity to visit with you.

My name is Dr. Wesley Fryer, and I am a digital learning consultant in Oklahoma City. Tonight I want to share deep concerns with you as a parent of three students in Oklahoma City Public Schools regarding the overblocking of Internet websites in our district. I want to call on you to establish a task force to further investigate these issues and make recommendations so students and teachers in our district have opportunities to use interactive websites like Evernote, Edmodo, and Google Documents. These websites provide important platforms for students to practice safe collaborative writing and social networking.They are free and are being used by students and teachers in other large, urban school districts around the United States today which comply with legal requirements of E-Rate including the Children’s Internet Protection Act.

Since August 26, 2011, I have been working with teachers and staff in our district to get the website Evernote.com unblocked so the debate team at Classen SAS can use it to share research and evidence. I have worked with our classroom teacher, school librarian, school principal, and secondary schools director. This morning I met with both our district superintendent and district CIO. I have been told Oklahoma City Public Schools blocks the website Evernote.com because it poses a security risk to the network, because students could upload pornography to it, and because providing student access to sites like this would risk the loss of millions of federal E-Rate dollars.

In mid-October 2011 Oklahoma City Public Schools started blocking student access to both Google Documents and Google Mail. Last week our district started blocking student access to Edmodo.com, a free and secure website for in-classroom social networking and electronic assignment management. These decisions are not justified and should be reversed immediately.

Oklahoma City Public Schools has a professed commitment to “Preparing Students for Success in School, Work, and Life.” We have a problem, however, with a disconnect between these professed commitments involving digital literacy and the reality of draconian Internet website filtering in our classrooms.

Some of the information about the Children’s Internet Protection Act’s legal requirements provided to district staff is inaccurate. It is not true our district would lose $4 million of federal E-Rate funding if we provide students and teachers with access to sites like Evernote, Google Docs and Edmodo. Yet the threat of that monetary loss is regularly brought out at district meetings where content filtering issues are discussed. Large urban districts like Fairfax County Public Schools, Seattle Public Schools and Minneapolis Public Schools provide access to these three sites today. A district task force can research these issues further and provide recommendations to the board which support more balanced content filtering policies.

Thank you for considering these ideas and for your service to our community.

'Austin's Gong Show feat One Eyed Doll at Ruta Maya' photo (c) 2008, MarkScottAustinTX - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

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On this day..

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  • http://twitter.com/networkingnerd Tom Hollingsworth

    Disclaimer: I work for a value added reseller that is engaged with many filtering companies, as well as administering filters for many school districts across the state.

    Your points don’t fall on deaf ears for many of us in IT.  The problem with web filtering is the amount of time it takes to vet “safe” websites and how quickly it takes those sites to be rescinded when impropriety happens.  Just today, I had a discussion about unblocking pinterest.com for a school that wanted to use it for team projects.  The other party to the discussion decided it didn’t need to be removed from the filter list due to some questionable photos he found when searching through the site.  While I can see the value of allowing sites like Youtube and Pinterest to be available to users, there does exist the opportunity to abuse it for less-than-honorable purposes.  As for GMail, many districts choose to block webmail sites to prevent students from doing the very same things they say will be done if Evernote is unblocked.

    If the option to provide a web filtering solution that allows categorical blocking to be approved on a per-URL basis isn’t palatable at this time, then the other solution may be to see if the members of your debate team can be added to a group that has separate logins that can have certain site restrictions lifted for the signing of a liability waiver.  That way, the IT department is protected against misuse and can rescind the unblocked sites at a moment’s notice.

  • http://www.techsavvyteacher.com Jason

    Go.  Wes.

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