Tuesday, October 16, 2018
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BSD Proxy Usage


Source: lenovo.com

The Bellevue School District gives laptops to all students to use at home and at school. Due to the Children’s Internet Protection Act, however, schools are required to block content on the Internet that is “obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors”. This Act makes sense, but the bad part about it is that it is very hard to enforce, as “harmful to minors” is very vague. Some schools only block sites that are known to be bad, but the Bellevue School District works on a “better safe than sorry” approach, which shouldn’t cause problems. However, the blocking blocks many useful sites like various news sites (provide examples) and even educational content. So, many students use a proxy site to get around the blocking, and hence access the content they need to be informed and do their work. Technically, this is against the agreement students signed at the beginning of the year (Student Acceptable Use of District Network Procedure 2022.P), but it still happens frequently.

On May 30, 2018, students who used a proxy got this email sent to them and their parents:

 

“Hi [Parent],

I’m reaching out because the district IT department has been auditing students’ web traffic, in particular, looking for students who are using proxy avoidance sites. Proxy avoidance sites allow users to access other sites typically blocked by the district’s web filters.  Over the last twenty five days, [Student] used a proxy server to access blocked sites [Number] times.  As a result of this, we are placing a browsing restriction on [Student]’s internet usage through the end of the year.  This will help to prevent them from accessing proxy sites, and as a result, other sites that are blocked.  This restriction will be lifted at the start of the 2018-2019 school year.

In the interim, we will continue to monitor [Student]’s internet usage here at school and reach out with any additional concerns.  We also encourage you to have a conversation with [Student] about his internet usage and to discuss what types of blocked sites they have been accessing.  This article from the Seattle Times provides a good starting point for how to navigate teens’ use of technology: https://www.seattletimes.com/business/ways-for-parents-to-ease-tussle-with-teens-over-tech-use/.

Typically, I would make individual phone calls to discuss this type of concern with a family, but there are a large number of students identified in the district’s audit.  As a result, I am unable to manage individual conversations with each family.  If you have any questions or additional concerns, however, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Thank you,

[Assistant Principal]”

 

Many students’ parents allegedly punished their kids—one student reporting that he got his sports jerseys taken away. However, there was a major flaw with this email: the number of times the student used a proxy was inaccurate. An anonymous trusted source says that their email said they had used a proxy 1,400 times in the past 25 days, when they had only used it once or twice. They would have to have used a proxy 56 times a day for this number to work. Another source said that their email said they used a proxy 21 times in the past 25 days, but they counted 30 in their history.

The issue does not end here, however. Around June 2, the “browsing restriction” was put into place. It was only put on some students; the student whose email said that they used a proxy 1,400 times did not get the restriction. The “browsing restriction” did more than “prevent [students] from accessing proxy sites”, however. It blocked all sites but the essentials (BSD online resources, and some news sites) while leaving the proxy site one student used unblocked, which was built into a popular search engine.

A blocked research paper

“It’s now impossible to do research,” one student said. “When I try to look up information for parts of a project, all of the search results are blocked.”

It seems like the District’s solution to the proxy problem isn’t helping much. If they really wanted to fix the problem, they should adopt alternate software to block sites. A nearby school district uses software called “iBoss”, where only the known inappropriate sites are blocked. Students there usually never had a problem with the blocking, but if they ever did, they could have their teacher put in their password to unblock the site temporarily. Even the Department of Education says that “many filters designed to protect students also block access to legitimate learning content… that have the potential to support student learning and engagement.” It would be legal to loosen restrictions, so now it’s the school’s job to decide whether they want their students to be able to learn freely, or be constantly unable to work.

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