Monday, March 27, 2006

Cat And Mouse Games

Indiana public school officials and high school students are battling for control over student access to blogs and other websites during school hours:
It took students one day to hack their way back to blogging Web sites after technicians blocked them on school computers.

But Fort Wayne Community Schools will keep trying to keep students away from the popular sites, spokeswoman Debbie Morgan told The Journal Gazette for a Sunday story.

School officials say blogging not only distracts students but makes them vulnerable to online predators.

“We don’t put all these thousands of dollars of equipment out there in the schools for personal use,” said Doug Coutts, the district’s chief operations officer. “They’re out there for educational purposes.”

Students had been able to log on to popular sites including Facebook and MySpace during school, though they were not supposed to do so. Technicians started blocking the sites Thursday, but students had found ways around the new blocks by Friday.

Students at Fort Wayne and other school districts use the sites to communicate online with friends, make new friends online and post personal information and photos.

“I’m a Facebook junky,” said Ashley Rohlfing, a senior at Homestead High School in the Southwest Allen County school district. “Like, every time I get on a computer, I check it.” She said she checks the site about five times a day, often when she is at school.

School policy prohibits students from accessing their personal e-mail accounts, blog sites such as Facebook and other material the school deems inappropriate.

But that doesn’t stop them from trying.

Mark East, network technology supervisor for the Southwest Allen district, and his staff monitor Internet use at the school and often use filters to lock students out of gaming or other sites when they catch them attempting to access them.

East said he blocks an average of 150 Web sites each week. Some students try to find ways around the filters, but most usually give up, East said.

Not all of them, though.

“Every once in a while we’ll get a stubborn one,” said network technician Mike Berkshire.

If East catches a student doing something inappropriate on a computer three times, he alerts the principal. Students have been punished for such activities 32 times this school year.

Punishments have ranged from a one-day suspension from computer class to all-day in-school suspension, said Homestead Assistant Principal Chris Johnson.
While off-campus, the First Amendment protects the right of students to have free access to their sites. However, students may not write anything libelous or threaten anyone with physical harm.
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