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Schools don't appreciate Internet filters
"Every time a student or a class uses the Internet at Decatur High School, Lori Beaver knows exactly what's going to happen.As the instructional technician leader at Decatur, she feels the irritation of her students who are often stopped and stopped again by the Federal Way school district's Internet filtering system, called Bess.They sigh and they get upset, she said, clicking around on a computer at the school's computer lab. They feel like there's nothing else to do.The district voluntarily uses Internet filtering but a new federal law means most schools and libraries will no longer have a choice. The Children's Internet Protection Act approved by Congress in December requires schools and libraries that get federal money to pay for Internet connections - and most do - to install and use filtering software on all computers.The American Civil Liberties union has said it legally challenge the law's passage. Many library officials, including from the King County Library System, object to the law because it denies library users free access to information.Beaver said she sees the value of Internet filters and believes they are important in keeping questionable or objectionable material away from children. What she doesn't like, however, is that Bess is used across the board for every school in the district. That means the same level of protection used in elementary schools is in the high schools.I understand why we need this, she said. But high school kids shouldn't have the same kind of blocking. It would be nice if we had a different system so kids could get the information they need.Students at Decatur use the school's two computer labs every day for Internet research, word processing, Power Point presentations and homework. But it's the Internet research and its filter that Beaver says hampers students and lengthens the time they spend on the computers. Instead of having direct access to a website that might contain the word sex, she said, students are forced to re-work or re-phrase a keyword so the filter will open a more suitable G-rated website.In a history class last year, Beaver recalled a student who attempted to use the Internet to find information on U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks and was denied access.There's a lot of stuff they try to get to and I spend a lot of time trying to get around it, Beaver said.Decatur student Rachael Golliet, 18, said she's given up on school computers because the Bess system drives her up a wall.It hinders more than it helps, she said. It locks out half the websites search engines give.Golliet said she doesn't think the same filters used for kindergartners should apply to high schoolers and that most students wouldn't abuse freer search engines.If they're online and have a mission to do things, she said, they'll do it and get it done.And Beaver said students don't have much opportunity to do anything but work on the computers since there are usually two staff members inside the lab watching students. Further, to even use the school computers, she said students must return a signed parent permission slip.While the filtering system has garnered its share of complaints at the high school level, Linda Wilder, principal at Mirror Lake Elementary School, believes the Bess system is right for all students regardless of age.The district has a right to put filters on that need to be there, she said. ... There's a certain criteria of what's allowable in textbooks when it come to controversial pieces, and it's the same type of deal with websites. Federal Way has used the Bess system powered by Seattle-based N2H2 Network for about four years. It's only been recently that N2H2 has developed technology to allow filtering at different levels, said Kenneth Cole, the district's manager of information technology services. Moreover, Cole said Internet sites that schools wish to open can now be unlocked.We can do that on a site by site basis, he said. With filtering you have to be careful. We tend to fault in a more conservative direction. "