New Internet filters restrict access at home and school alike

by Sophie Yang, ’19

You’re sitting at home, determined to overcome your procrastination and begin some summer work. You flip open your school-issued laptop, click on YouTube for a quick detour — but wait. It’s not loading. Actually, dozens of sites aren’t loading. “Sorry, this site is not available because it is categorized as adult.”

This is the situation in which many students found themselves this summer as new web filters were implemented across district-issued laptops. Unlike the previous filtering system, this filter’s restrictions are active at all times, even when away from the school’s wifi networks.

A student finds a blocked video on YouTube. The new filter adds more restrictions to the site. Photo illustration by Grace Call.

According to the UA technology department, the need for a filter came to light at the end of last school year. The tech team worked throughout the summer to create a completely new system that was sent out to computers in July and August.

Principal Andrew Theado said that the choice to add a new filter was one that crossed departments.

“The purpose of the decision is to make the filter more consistent when the district devices leave our network, so it should be acting the same as it does at school at home,” Theado said.

The tech department said that students can gain more access to the Internet by logging in to their official UA schools account on their laptops. In addition, filters may relax when school ends, allowing access to more sites after 3:05 or 4 p.m.

The current blocked sites list differs from last year’s. For instance, as of Aug. 9, Twitter is accessible on school laptops. Meanwhile, some students are unable to view Wikipedia.

The purpose of the decision is to make the filter more consistent when the district devices leave our network.

— Principal Andrew Theado

The filter update comes with a new feature as well: when the blocked site error appears, students can “submit for review,” sending a suggestion to unblock educational sites. Previously, this was a feature only available to teachers.

Senior Amanda Mazzaferri, who is among the students that kept their laptops over the summer, feels that this is a positive note.

“I think that it’s good that they give us the option to say, ‘Oh, I need to use this website for a project’ or something. So that’s a good solution,” Mazzaferri said.

Theado said that while the filter was added this summer, many students have come to him with concerns about the blocked sites list.

“I’ve talked to a couple students over the summer, and it has interrupted a few of the websites that they usually have access to,” Theado said. “I directed those students to put in a student help desk ticket… and from what I understand, those websites were opened up to those students.”

According to Theado, the filter was updated partly due to concerns from parents.

Light from a MacBook Air illuminates a dark room. Photo illustration courtesy Jay Wennington.

“What happens is [the school] gets feedback from families. I get feedback from some families, and I share it with the tech department,” Theado said. “[One] complaint that I’ve received is that the filter doesn’t work at home, so there are certain websites that the parents didn’t want. [Students] couldn’t access [them] at school but they could access [them] at home.”

Senior Lily Nelson, who also kept her laptop over the summer, disagrees with the new filter.

“I get that under school wifi, certain things should be blocked to make sure that every student is actually learning and doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Nelson said. “But especially when you’re at home, I feel like kids need their computers to do school work, but also [enjoy some] games… [Sometimes] kids just want to take a break.”

Nelson also said filters have sometimes interrupted her work.

“A lot of stuff that is blocked too is teachers’ lesson plans and things we need for school. Health class is what I think of — they’ll block sites that have the word ‘weed’ in them, and if you’re doing research on that, how are you supposed to find more information about it if it’s blocked?” Nelson said. “I understand there’s a need to a certain extent to block some stuff, but some of it is harmless.”

At the moment, Theado does not see the updates being reversed.

“My assumption is that [the filter] is here to stay unless we have so many problems that we need to rethink,” Theado said. “It’s hard to predict all the issues that will pop up, so we continue to evolve and adapt as we grow with this program.”