Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Pennsylvania Newspaper Article / School Tech Director Misrepresents CIPA

(cross-posted from

Update 11/16: Note the original title of this article has been changed, my intent in writing this is not to personally attack the reporter who wrote the article, but rather call attention to these issues which desperately need clarifying in our communities.

Update 11/17: After reaching out to the newspaper reporter via phone and email I have learned her quotations in this article came from the district technology director at a school board meeting. I am in the process of contacting the Assistant to the Superintendent for Operations for Parkland Schools for additional clarification. To address the reporter’s concerns about this blog post I have changed the title again. The initial title was, “Newspaper Reporter Marion Callahan Misquotes CIPA.” The title was changed on 11/16 to “Pennsylvania Newspaper Article Misquotes CIPA.” I have now changed the title to “Pennsylvania Newspaper Article / School Tech Director Misrepresents CIPA” and also changed this blog post permalink. The current Google search results for the reporter’s name which include “misquotes” in the title is her concern.

Sunday’s article, “Parkland students may soon take laptops, Kindles to class” in the Allentown, Pennsylvania, newspaper “The Morning Call” shares an exciting story about BYOD (bring your own device) computing plans in a local school district. The reporter, Marion Callahan, interviewed a school administrator at a recent board meeting. Her interview quotations may give readers a misleading impression about the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Those statements give the false impression that school officials are mandated by federal law to ban student smartphone use at school. While districts are obligated to implement and enforce a Internet content filtering policy on their school networks, schools are not required to outlaw smartphones at school which can bypass school-provided Internet access. With respect to current policy in the Parkland School District, Callahan wrote:

Smartphones, however, are off-limits. Until the district can find a way for its network to limit access, students are not permitted access to the Internet with phones during school hours. The Children’s Internet Protection Act requires that schools have a content filter in place and make every effort to block objectionable sites.

Callahan’s statements in this paragraph misrepresent the requirements of CIPA for schools. Students as well as staff at U.S. schools receiving federal E-Rate funding are NOT prohibited by law or mandate from using their Internet-capable smartphones at school and accessing the Internet through their privately-paid / cellular company provided Internet access. Too many school leaders use CIPA and other legal requirements affecting computing to maintain draconian content filtering policies which make China’s firewall look like a benevolent Santa Claus. This must change, and change starts with the truth.

'Santa's Spreadsheet, after Haddon Sundblom' photo (c) 2009, Mike Licht - license:

If wireless Internet access is provided by the school receiving E-Rate funds, that school-provided wifi access must have some kind of content filter in place. The school is not obligated to provide wifi access, however, and certainly is not obligated to ban student use of smartphones or ban students from accessing the Internet with their own carrier data plans. The project wiki, “Unmasking the Digital Truth” highlights the requirements for CIPA:

CIPA requires schools and libraries using E-Rate discounts to operate “a technology protection measure with respect to any of its computers with Internet access that protects against access through such computers to visual depictions that are obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors…”

See the May 2011 post on BalancedFiltering,org, “Do your school administrators REALLY understand CIPA?” for additional information including clarifications on CIPA requirements provided last spring by Karen Cator, the U.S. Department of Education’s Director of Education Technology.

Misunderstandings of CIPA like the one highlighted by Marion Callahan in this article might seem like a minor detail, but they are not. Widespread misconceptions about CIPA abound in in our schools today. The last thing we need mainstream media outlets to do is further confuse and obfuscate ‘the truth’ when it comes to content filtering in schools. This is the reason the “Unmasking the Digital Truth” project highlights the facts, laws, and court decisions behind eight primary reasons school leaders in too many U.S. schools today over block the web far beyond their legal mandate to do so. These reasons include:

  • CIPA – The Child’s Internet Protection Act (mandates basic content filtering – U.S.)
  • e-Discovery – Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) requiring email archiving under some circumstances (U.S.)
  • FERPA – The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (U.S.)
  • COPPA – The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (U.S.)
  • Bandwidth – Often a concern the school does not have enough to support a particular website/tool
  • Control – Educational leaders sometimes want to limit potential user behavior
  • Liability – Concern that website access will lead to lawsuits from and litigation with parents
  • Fear – More generalized feelings that web 2.0 sites and technologies are bad / dangerous

I applaud the district leaders in Parkland School District in Pennysylvania for embracing a vision for digital learning which will support BYOD (bring your own device) computing for students and staff in the near future. I hope, however, local newspaper reporter Marion Callahan will clarify her misleading statements about CIPA so all community members in and around Allentown can gain a better rather than a murkier understanding of CIPA requirements. While the school district (which receives E-Rate funds) clearly has a legal obligation to provide a basic level of content filtering on its network when students, staff, and community members access the Internet through it, the district is NOT obligated by law to ban Internet-capable smartphones for students or anyone else or ban smartphone Internet use through commercial cellular providers.

All schools in our communities need policies which support balanced content filtering. All our schools need “smart networks” which can enable both flexible access as well as accountability for network users. It sounds like leaders in the Parkland School District are on the right road forward. Hopefully we’ll see more BYOD initiatives in our U.S. schools in the months ahead, as well as state-funded digital learning initiatives providing mobile computing devices for students who cannot afford to bring their own to school.

'Too many cables' photo (c) 2009, KIUI - license:

For additional guidance and information related to digital literacy and school leadership I recommend “What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media” by Scott McLeod and Chris Lehmann. (Steve Dembo and I co-authored chapter 3 on “Podcasts and Webinars.”)

Hat tip to John Maklary for sharing this article.


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2 responses to “Pennsylvania Newspaper Article / School Tech Director Misrepresents CIPA”

  1. Jason Avatar

    Great job, Wes, confronting this directly.

    If anything, it is sloppy reporting.  When she writes:Smartphones, however, are off-limits. Until the district can find a way for its network to limit access, students are not permitted access to the Internet with phones during school hours. The Children’s Internet Protection Act requires that schools have a content filter in place and make every effort to block objectionable sites….she is writing this as fact, not as something attributed to a tech director.  It is an obligation of reporters to check facts and a quick Google search would confirm what this law actually mandates.

  2. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    I had 3 phone calls today on this and can’t at present put together a post…. but I spoke with the reporter first thing this morning (replying to my phone message and email the day before asking to talk) and then spoke with both the district PR director and the district director of operations. I obtained some good clarifications, but it’s clear there are plenty of issues here that need exploring and further discussion.