In the Schools: Internet restrictions hinder student research


Special to the Times

“Looks like this page isn’t allowed” has become an all too often heard phrase in East Lyme High School classrooms, according to students and staff.

However, according to Technology Lead Benjamin McCarthy, the strict filtering has to do with legalities and protecting the school network from viruses and malware.

The filtering process on student school-issued computers or on an ELHS site is a result of a third party company’s generic set of keywords and websites that are categorized to be potentially harmful. Certain categories are blocked, specified, and controlled at the district level.

One instance of this is TED Talks. The tech team allows certain TED Talks based on what’s appropriate for the districts and then brings it to the administration to come to a decision.

There are also uncategorized websites, called the “gray area,” for which teachers can put tickets into the help desk to lessen the filters and strictness of the intended website.

“When I came here and saw how much freedom the students had and how many devices were stacking up and needed to be reimaged, the tech guys were spending days doing things that they shouldn’t need to do. We should be focusing on making the school better, making the network faster rather than simple stuff that is avoidable,” Mr. McCarthy said.

This coming summer, a kiosk will be implemented at the help desk so students can put tickets in to access content behind the firewall as well.

Like many other students, senior Shannon Pierce has found the school censoring frustrating, especially when it comes to researching sensitive subjects.

“The most annoying thing about it is definitely when you try to look up pictures. It restricts your pictures and only gives you a couple options for the thing you’re actually looking up. When you’re trying to do big research projects, it’s hard to find a picture that’s both relevant and informative,” Pierce said.

English teachers Colleen Sablone and Alexa Kydd have both run into similar issues regarding the blocking of videos. When different videos are blocked, it can push teachers’ schedules back.

“The blocking feels random. I’m sure it’s not, but it feels that way. When I talk about texts, it’s important for kids to access audio and video. However, we run into blocking, which is a little bit frustrating,” Ms. Kydd said.

Filtering and the blocking of websites have to do with specific keywords.

“Filtering is tricky because if you allow some through, you allow all through. The system is triggered off of keywords. It’s also there for protections. We don’t want kids looking at stuff that they shouldn’t be when they’re at school. It puts a liability on us,” Mr. McCarthy said.

There are different rules for each school; the high school has less strict rules than the elementary or middle school in terms of internet restrictions.

“My guys spend a lot of time replacing devices, re-imaging devices because students install things they shouldn’t have. I’ve taken a lot of that ability away, made a lot of people upset, but it’s for the best for everybody because one malware, one virus that gets into the network could shut the whole district down,” Mr. McCarthy said.

Over the past couple of months, the freedoms students have had on their laptops have changed gradually.

“Legal reasons are a significant part of this. We do give a lot of freedom, but there will be keywords that trigger. It’s a give and take process,” Mr. McCarthy said.

What’s the future of SATs at ELHS?


Special to the Times

The first time East Lyme students took the SAT online was March 24. Despite the push for digitalized testing by CollegeBoard, there were many challenges with this change.

While it was expected that the test was supposed to start at 7:40, it actually started an hour later with the last session ending at 12:26 p.m.

“My room, in particular, had quite a few challenges. Some kids first had to restart their computer to get the right icon to pop up. A couple students, even after restarting the computer, didn’t have the right icon in order to take the SAT,“ math teacher Roger Templeton said.

Although these problems were resolved, there is still concern about online testing in the future.

“School districts with less access to resources … like extra computers are put at even more of a disadvantage in terms of standardized tests. Even if a school does have computers, there were classrooms who had to wait an hour and a half or even two hours in order to test, which isn’t fair,” said junior Cora Muschinsky.

Due to so many difficulties with the test being online, students are also concerned about how it will affect their scores.

“I think that people are going to get a lower score than they usually would just because it’s different. Also, this was a weirdly hard test in my opinion at least. If you change anything, it’s not going to be comfortable, and people are going to get it wrong,” said Muschinsky.

ELHS administered the SAT online this year because of the increasingly widespread test-optional policy at colleges.

According to a critical non-profit of the SAT, Fair Test, about 80 percent of roughly 2,300 four year-colleges are not requiring the exam for the Class of 2022 applicants. The College Board said that the shortened digital exam, at about two hours, will be more adaptive to students’ comfort levels while challenging them on their knowledge.

Although this change is new and different from the past, people believe the experience will get better over time.

“Students feel more confident working on computers than they do with bubbling in answers on a pencil and paper test, so once they get comfortable with the test and how to navigate it, I think they’ll be more confident,” said P.E. teacher and SAT adviser Jeff Handler.

Source: https://www.theday.com/local-news/20220526/in-schools-internet-restrictions-hinder-student-research