One of the most frustrating aspects of capitalizing upon the capabilities of modern technology involves lack of access due to no equipment, poor internet speed, and over filtering. Today one of my teachers reported she couldn't open one of the Reader's Theatre links from the SLJ blog because the "filter police" said she was being racist and illegal. I was very surprised so duplicated her attempt to link. One of the sites was blocked with the message below appearing. The teachers expressed their embarrassment to being accused of being hateful, racist, illegal, and cheating. Note that they don't read this part "identified as inappropriate includes, but is not limited to," but feel defensive about the entire message. This is a problem so I did something about it.
Your site ———- is blocked by the Tennessee Department of Education content filtering guidelines.
Web sites that have been identified as providing inappropriate content are blocked. This determination is based upon the categorization of the website. Content identified as inappropriate includes, but is not limited to:
- Adult-oriented material
- Illegal material
- Racist or hate-oriented material
- School cheating material
Please note the following when requesting a review of a site:
FREE PAGES: Sites categorized as Free Pages (e.g. http://groups.yahoo.com, http://mywebpages.comcast.net, etc.) are blocked by default since both appropriate and inappropriate information can be posted. Specific Free Page sites can be unblocked when ENA verifies that the content is appropriate.
VISUAL SEARCH ENGINES: Sites categorized as visual search engines (e.g. http://images.yahoo.com, http://images.google.com, etc.) are blocked by default and cannot be unblocked. These websites allow searches for both appropriate and inappropriate images, with no way to differentiate. Requests to review visual search engine sites will NOT receive a response.
If you believe a site is blocked due to being incorrectly categorized or you would like ENA to review a Free Pages site, please Request a Site Review. You may also utilize Authorized Override view the website for a designated time period. A valid username is required to log in to Authorized Override.
All librarians should know the telephone number of the help desk to request emergency overrides. When I clicked on the link to request a site review, the link wasn't working. In this situation the teacher needed reader's theatre scripts before her next class in 5 mintues. I couldn't wait. I called the help desk for immediate assistance. Notice that I didn't have to call a technician, the technician's supervisor, and other people who have no curricular expertise. I was able to go to the source of access.
The helpdesk personnel were wonderful. They asked my name, checked my history of requesting legitimate sites being unblocked, checked this particular site (which was incorrectly categorized as a work-around site), and listened to me vent the teacher's frustrations with the wording of the block page.
As I spoke more and more teachers wandered through the library and added their comments of frustration and shame at having been questioned on their attempting to access an educationally appropriate site – especially sites they had spent hours of their own time locating at home, only to be blocked at school.
I notified the company that I would be blogging about this and they ensured other company officials called back within the hour to help me. They sincerely want to have a well-written block page which explains why the site was flagged by the filters, yet doesn't convey such a negative message to educators, parents, and students. They gave me permission to include the above message and added the following:
Please provide feedback how we can modify the wording so that it is less offensive to teachers but still communicate why they received a block page instead of the intended website. I appreciate your candor and your suggestions!
There have been times when there is a hidden reason why sites are blocked and through phoning the state help desk, I can learn why. The ENA personnel have even volunteered to help me find similar sites in a pinch if there are hidden links that will cause network difficulties. This is great service. Seven years ago the service was not as responsive. My husband recalls a time when he emailed in a request for review, then one week later received a form letter stating that the official presidential page was being "appropriately" blocked. He felt they hadn't even read his request. At that time we met with state level officials on behalf of our school library state association and discussed the need for correcting the procedure. They worked with us to establish one procedure and now are re-evaluating to see if it needs to be improved again.
Imagine if every school library organization was able to meet with the teams in charge of filtering decisions to discuss the messages conveyed and the significant problems they face on the front line. I submitted my blog to the state filtering organization years ago, they evaluated it and determined it was appropriate professional development for school librarians so it is unblocked. Hopefully you have similar procedures available in your state so you can request specific sites be unblocked.
Notice that I am not advocating totally unlimited roaming on the internet. I teach in an elementary school and don't want children mistakenly accessing some sites. However, I do believe the court rulings on CIPA indicate that there must be reasonable procedures in place for ADULTS to request reviews of blocked sites to provide timely access of appropriate sites. I am the information professional in my building and I do choose resources valued at nearly $1 million dollars a year. I am quite capable of ascertaining appropriate internet sites. The procedures need to be in place to value my expertise while still providing the protection my students need. Doesn't this seem too logical?