District Works To Improve Web Blocking System


After an increase in the number of blocked websites this year, administration and the IT Department have created a system for students and faculty to request sites be unblocked.

Mikayla Kudron, A&E Editor

At the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, there was a flood of blocked websites, leaving students wanting answers. Why were so many websites inaccessible? What makes a website “inappropriate for school”? Rumors circulating the school certainly did not provide any clarity.  All theories of blocking websites based on keywords have been debunked, and the filtering system that blocks websites based on their content is used to keep our school internet use safe and relevant to learning.

Some websites that are used for educational purposes have been blocked anyway.

“The websites which house many of the books I read as well as school resources started getting blocked,” said sophomore, Brian Huynh. In response, he created a petition that circulated the school and got support from over 300 students and staff members, and even the mayor. The goal of the petition was “to make it so that students wouldn’t actually gain any direct ability to unblock things, yet would also have more ability to communicate what they want unblocked,” Brian explained. Those who signed the petition advocated for the “ability to request” that sites are made available. For those wondering what happened to the petition, it is currently waiting for approval from the Superintendent and IT Director. Administrative officials agreed that there needed to be a way for students to request unblocking. Although Huynh, his peers, and the school all want to open an avenue of communication between students and the Department of Technology, making it happen may be complicated.

West Springfield High School and middle school both use the Firewall ‘Sonicwall’ filtering system. This system categorizes every website a student might visit on their chromebook. Certain categories are blocked while others are not. Categories and the websites belonging to them are made inaccessible on high school chromebooks for three main reasons: they either are inappropriate for school, they use multimedia streaming, or they are uncategorized.

Websites promoting guns, drugs, sex, or violence are all examples of websites with adult content, and they are blocked on the chromebooks. Sometimes, the topics taught in school could be considered mature as well, but the district is trying to keep all education-based sites available. For example, any websites that may include adult content are blocked, but websites promoting sex education are unblocked. This system is used to allow for a safe, distraction-free learning environment.

Uncategorized websites are also blocked, almost as a safety measure. It is very common for websites to be uncategorized, but that could mean anything. Just because a website is uncategorized rather than in the category of mature content doesn’t mean it’s safe for school.

“We want the process to be user friendly.””

— Dr. Perrone, WSHS principal

Multimedia and streaming websites are also unavailable on school chromebooks, no matter what content they discuss. This is because if every student in the high school was streaming music and videos, the internet would become even slower, interfering with learning. “We only have so much speed,” said Stephanie Straitiff, Director of Technology for West Springfield, “and the internet has to be shared in all buildings, so we have to limit streaming.”

A lot of uncategorized or multimedia websites are not only appropriate, but very helpful in school. For example, History.com was temporarily blocked because it is rated multimedia. Luckily, sites like History.com can also be whitelisted, meaning they are effectively unblocked even if the rest of the category remains inaccessible.

All extensions and apps were blocked over December break, causing confusion among students. Extensions and apps include games, notepad apps, google themes, proxies, and more. This was done because teachers use a program called Hapara to view students screens when necessary. They can also produce an image on a students screen through their computer. Extensions and apps were blocked because when a student uses some apps, especially proxies (alternative browsers), teachers can’t see what they’re doing. Teachers occasionally need to use their Hapara extension to ensure that students are using class time effectively and appropriately.

Many students have expressed frustration over the blocked sites, and in response, Mrs. Straitiff, Dr. Perrone, and West Springfield High School’s IT Department have come up with a way for students to communicate their concerns directly. On January 18th, they sent an email to all middle and high school students detailing the avenue of communication decided on.

As of right now, if a student notices a website is blocked unnecessarily they can tell a teacher or member of administration.  An administrator can request that the site be whitelisted. Administration is trying to come up with a method to promote direct communication from students. “We want the process to be user friendly,” said Dr. Perrone.