Security or shelter?


Savannah Burchfiel

With the start of a new school year came the implementation of a new district-wide technology policy. The new internet security system is designed to protect students from inappropriate or dangerous material. But when has the security gone too far? Popups constantly warn about “security threats,” and school computers block everything from Google to the Common Application, making the school system generally unusable for even school work. While protective measures are essential on the web, administrators should not debut new systems without proper considerations.

As the district moves toward more high-tech practices, the experience has been two steps forward and one step back. School-mandated Gmail accounts were created for the students in the spring, but now access to the accounts has been blocked completely.

Accessing Gmail is hit or miss. Some days, the website will open, and some days it will not. Upon opening up Gmail through Google Chrome, a sad-looking animated piece of paper notifies the user that “this webpage is not available.” Trying to access Gmail in Internet Explorer brings the user to a page with a Leander ISD heading saying that the page is blocked. The description reads that the “website contains prohibited Web-Based E-mail content.”

The security system has also caused problems with the Common Application. Internet Explorer, the main browser for the school, does not support the website. Working around the system, counselors and teachers require students to print offline forms from home, which must be sent in through the mail. The process is more lengthy, unreliable and expensive.

The stress and pressure of the college application process does not need to be added to by petty issues such as blocked websites. If the new procedure is supposed to support students, the system should be able to support essential webpages. Although the district encourages updated technology, the policy isn’t ready to be accepted.

CATE teacher Debbie Weiland, who teaches classes like Fashion Marketing and advises FCCLA, has found problems with the security system. Because her classes require access shopping sites, students have been unable to complete assignments at school due to blocked websites. Pinterest has especially caused problems for her classes. By appealing to administration, Weiland got some of the websites to become reopened for student use.

At this point, trial and error is the best way to regain access to the internet. Appeals can be made to teachers to regain access to websites essential to classwork. Another option is to try to access the website through another browser, for example Internet Explorer or Google Chrome.

While access to important websites is the most visible issue for students, there are other underlying problems with the security system. It enforces the safety of students against  the online community, but it does not protect the privacy of students by any means.

District administrators have access to all student internet activity on the school system. This includes activity on school computers, as well as activity on personal devices through the school Wi-Fi. Administrators are credited with the ability to detect the exact computer on which a student is playing a video game. Calls are made to the school, and the school can find which student had access to which computer. While the procedure seems Big Brother-esque, it is designed to keep students from accessing dangerous or inappropriate material.

As it is now, halfway through the first semester, the school system still does not seem to support essential websites.  The hope is that the district will be able to take a productive step forward, and the internet will gradually reopen for student use.