Championing Internet Access for Students on Banned Websites Awareness Day

Posted on behalf of the AASL Banned Websites Awareness Day Committee

It’s happened to all of us– we’re at school trying to access the perfect website for a learning activity at school and…. it’s blocked.  Now what?

BWAD-2015_webbadgeWhile banning books is commonly recognized by librarians as detrimental to the student educational experience, restricted website access isn’t on everyone’s radar.  That’s where Banned Websites Awareness Day comes in. The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) designated the Wednesday of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Banned Books Week as Banned Websites Awareness Day (BWAD, pronounced bee-wad). Its purpose is to raise awareness of how overly restrictive Internet filtering can impede student learning by blocking access to legitimate educational websites and participatory learning tools (including social media).

Overly restrictive Internet filtering is often the result of earnest efforts to comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) or similar legislation, but the legislation itself is frequently misunderstood or misinterpreted. In a nutshell, CIPA requires that schools and libraries receiving E-Rate funding “block or filter Internet access to pictures that are: (a) obscene; (b) child pornography; or (c) harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors).” CIPA does not enumerate a specific list of sites, and thus the decision-making authority is given to local agencies (school districts, libraries, etc.).  In 2014, ALA Washington’s Office for Information and Technology Policy (OITP) developed a helpful white paper to examine CIPA’s decade-long impact, Fencing Out Knowledge that delineated four recommendations to ALA:

  • Increase awareness of the spectrum of filtering choices.
  • Develop a toolkit for school leaders.
  • Establish a digital repository of Internet filtering studies.
  • Conduct research to explore the educational uses of social media platforms and assess the impact of filtering in schools.

In 2012, Lightspeed Systems, a school web filtering and mobile management company, published Web Filtering and Schools: Balancing IT and Educator Needs, a guide that explains in layman’s terms what CIPA does and does not require, filtering pros and cons, and best practices.  The guide’s 10 Facts About CIPA and Web Filtering points out that commonly blocked sites such as YouTube are not restricted by CIPA.

Filtering on school networks is an issue of crucial importance. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), CIPA itself charges schools with educating students about respectful and safe online interaction on social networking sites.  Opportunities for authentic digital literacy instruction arise when students access social networking sites in educational settings.  Permissive website access at school allows students who don’t have home Internet access to find essential resources for their personal and educational development, narrowing the digital divide that these students already may be experiencing.  Most importantly, the more openly that students can access the internet at school, the more prepared students will be when they are using the Internet independently outside of the school network.

There is plenty that you can do to bring awareness to the importance of Internet filtering, and BWAD is the perfect time to take action–small or large.

  • Contribute data:
    • Visit on your school network and click “Test Sites” to contribute data to the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University’s real-time, international record of Internet blockages.  While you’re there, take a moment to check out that live data for yourself– it’s fascinating!  Here’s a quick link to the At-A-Glance page for the United States to get you started.
    • With your administrator’s permission, design and distribute a survey at your school about which Internet sites teachers and students feel would add to their educational opportunities.  Share the results with your school community as you and your administrator(s) deem appropriate.
  • Educate students:  Teach a lesson in your classroom or library about filtering.  Here are a few lesson plans to get you started.
    • Teaching About Freedom of Speech on the Internet, hosted by the American Bar Association and developed by a professor and student at Georgetown University.
      • Deals specifically with Internet filters in schools, school libraries and public libraries. For high school.
    • What Filters Hide: A Lesson, hosted by JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights, written by Lori Keekley and posted by JBowen.
      • Students research commonly filtered sites and interview the “gatekeeper” at their school. Linked to the Common Core Standards for high school.
    • The following sites have amazing, free digital literacy resources– nothing quite yet on filtering specifically, but we wouldn’t be surprised if filtering lessons turn up soon!
  • Raise Awareness: Observe BWAD on September 30, 2015 and Electronic Frontier Foundation’s 404 Day on April 4, 2016 in your school and/or library with special activities, announcements, displays, promotional materials, and more.  It’s a perfect opportunity for a student committee to take the reins!

As champions of digital literacy, librarians are ideally situated to open this important discussion.  Let’s work together with our school communities towards broad and responsible access to educational online resources while at school.

The Federal Trade Commission provides a consumer guide to CIPA on their website. For a brief guide to CIPA’s requirements by the FCC, please click here and for ALA’s legal history of CIPA, please click here.

save the datePrepare for Banned Websites Awareness Day with a free webinar at 6:00 p.m. Central on Wednesday, September 23, Championing Internet Access for Students on Banned Websites Awareness Day.

Author: Jen Habley

Jen Habley is the AASL Manager of Web Communications. She manages the AASL websites, writes press releases, coordinates AASL’s online learning opportunities, and oversees AASL’s web 2.0 tools. When not working, Jen spends time researching her family tree, reading, and watching hockey.

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1 reply

  1. Jen,

    What an excellent blog! You’ve included so many resources for school librarians and library educators to use to push back against overly restrictive filtering.

    Just another reminder- BWAD is observed on Wed. (Sept. 30) during Banned Books Week (Sept. 27-Oct. 3, 2015).


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