To acquire and practice literacy skills today, students and educators in Oklahoma City Public Schools require access to Evernote, Google Docs, Gmail, Edmodo, Posterous, Celebrate Oklahoma Voices, and other educationally appropriate, interactive websites. All these websites are currently (as of February 9, 2012) blocked by OKCPS for student access. OKCPS must stop its “draconian” and unjustified Internet content filtering policies and adopt BALANCED policies. The district must TRUST teachers and empower them to directly bypass the content filter with their login credentials when it is professionally justified for instruction and learning. As an Oklahoma City parent, teacher, student, or other community constituent, I encourage you to sign the following online petition to make your opinion heard by the OKCPS superintendent and school board members:
I also encourage all parents to directly CALL your respective OKCPS board member, using the phone numbers available on the district website. I also encourage all parents to call the district superintendent’s office directly, and call the school board chairwoman directly. We need to stand together and speak out together so decisive action will be taken to remedy the wrongs highlighted below.
Since August 24, 2011, I have been meeting with district teachers, administrators, board members, and parents to advocate for more BALANCED content filtering policies in Oklahoma City Public Schools. These efforts are documented on the website balancedfiltering.org and on a detailed timeline linked on http://wfryer.me/filter. To date district officials have been unresponsive and unwilling to change their policies. The district director of technology erroneously maintained in a meeting I had with him and the district superintendent on November 21, 2011, that these policies are justified because:
- “All other large, urban school districts with comparable numbers of students to Oklahoma City block access to interactive websites like Google Docs and Gmail.”
- “Requirements of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) mandated through the federal E-Rate program require our district to block all interactive websites like Evernote.com. We risk losing millions of dollars in E-Rate funds if we unblock these sites.”
- “The district must prevent students from bringing pornography onto district computers by blocking access to any website which permits file and document exchange.”
- “The security vulnerabilities posed by websites like Google Docs and Evernote.com are too great to justify their use by district staff or students.”
All of these reasons are factually incorrect. The legally-mandated Oklahoma Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS) include student skills in the National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETS-S). (wfryer.me/netss) These require students to practice safe, electronic literacy activities including multimedia publishing and digital collaboration. These activities are also required by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) currently in phased-implementation by all Oklahoma public school districts. (wfryer.me/ccss) The draconian Internet filtering policies of OKCPS prevent students and teachers from meeting these legally mandated standards. Karen Cator, the U.S. Department of Education’s Director of Educational Technology, clarified legal requirements for school district content filtering in April 2011. U.S. school districts are NOT required to block all access to interactive websites, as OKCPS staff erroneously maintain. (wfryer.me/cator)
Current OKCPS Internet content filtering standards fail to empower teachers to make instructional decisions regarding digital content for which they are state certified and paid by district taxpayers. As the parent of three current students in OKCPS, I call on our school board members and district superintendent to change these policies immediately. Certified district teachers must be directly empowered to bypass content filtering restrictions using their official login credentials when they deem it is professionally justified for instruction and learning. In addition, a transparent and speedy process must be instituted immediately to electronically document and respond to teacher requests for websites to be unblocked. The district’s current Internet content filtering solution permits websites to be unblocked on a campus by campus basis. This process must be made digitally transparent and accountable so all stakeholders can monitor and assess both the speed and quality of the IT department’s responses to website unblock requests. In fall 2011 district IT staff failed to follow their own paper-based procedures for documenting reasons requested websites would not be unblocked despite teacher requests. This process must be made digital, transparent, and district officials must be made to follow it as policy.
In a large, high profile meeting with top district officials in OKCPS in spring 2011, national digital learning consultant Alan November highlighted the discriminatory gap which exists currently between the filtering policies of Oklahoma City suburb school districts and Oklahoma City Public Schools.* This discrepancy cannot be justified and defended on a legal, educational, or network security basis. “Draconian” content filtering policies in OKCPS have been defended by district officials to date through a combination of:
- misquoted / misinterpreted legal mandates
- exaggerated security vulnerabilities
- inaccurate perceptions of the IT department’s purview to censor and restrict employee and student access to digital content
The specific websites highlighted in this letter and accompanying online petition must be unblocked immediately for students as well as teachers in OKCPS. In addition, the CULTURE of fear and digital access repression which district officials continue to reinforce must be changed.
As parents of students in Oklahoma City Public Schools in 2012, we cannot stand by idly and permit district officials as well as our elected district representatives to maintain these unjustified and draconian content filtering policies. Certainly the district should and must continue to provide a basic level of content filtering on the district network for pornography and other offensive material as required by the Children’s Internet Protection Act. This is NOT a call to stop all Internet content filtering. This IS a call to adopt BALANCED policies for Internet content filtering and empower our certified teachers to act as the professional educators they are. As petition signers, we demand that OKCPS board members and district officials stop creating an overly-restrictive culture of digital access based on fear, threats, and misinterpretations of legal mandates. Our state law requires our students to acquire and practice digital literacy skills at school, and as parents we insist our school officials embrace balanced filtering policies which will allow those mandates to be met.
I encourage all Oklahoma City Public School parents to sign the online petition on Change.org to make your voice heard in this campaign:
In addition, please “like” and join the Facebook cause page created for this effort:
Please get involved in this campaign with your local school’s Parent Teacher Association / Parent Teacher Student Association and spread the word. Use your social media connections on sites like Facebook and Twitter to encourage others to join and take action. Use email. Use text messaging. If the citizens of Egypt can precipitate changes in their federal government through the use of social media and other communication technologies, as parents of students in Oklahoma City Public Schools we should be able to use these same tools to force our elected and school officials to pay attention to our voices. We can and we shall with your help.
Thank you for your support and action on behalf of our students and teachers in Oklahoma City Public Schools.
* I spoke by phone with Alan November on November 17, 2011, and learned the details of this early spring 2011 conversation / meeting with OKCPS officials.
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