News

School district bans site for rating teachers

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

Federal Wayy Public Schools officials restricted Internet access districtwide to a Web site called ratemyteachers.com, which invites students to critique their teachers or professors online.

The school district contracted with N2H2, a company that filters out Web sites that can be considered harmful to minors –– notably pornographic sites. The district also asks N2H2 to filter out all Web sites that do not directly support the district’s educational mission or provide a tool for academic research.

Deb Stenberg, a district spokeswoman, said ratemyteachers.com is potentially dangerous to students because it offers a chat option. She said there is no way educators can monitor student chat activity well enough to protect them from possible online predators. For that reason, the Web site was filtered out.

“Parents expect us to provide education and that safe environment. And that’s what we’re doing,” Stenberg said. “We have a number of laws we have to conform to.”

One of those laws is the Childrens’ Internet Protection Act, updated last month in a report to Congress by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The act states that minors must be protected from inappropriate and potentially harmful material including hate sites, indecent material, pornography, and sites that promote violence. The act also states, “Through participation in chat rooms and other interactive dialogues over the Internet, children can be vulnerable to online predators.”

Stenberg added that students and parents who would like ratemyteachers.com included can make their request to the school district.

Shannon Rasmussen, vice president of the Federal Way Education Administration, said she supports the district’s decision to filter out the Web site. She said using a chat room is not a productive way for students to get educational information.

“I also think that a rate-my-teacher Web site has the possibility of being

abused and hurtful,” Rasmussen said. “If a parent or student has concerns or questions about or for a teacher, the most productive manner to resolve those issues is to talk to the teacher directly. Usually in education, as in life, going to the source is the very best way to assure that the information received is accurate and justified.”

However, ratemyteachers.com spokesman Michael Hussey said, “We do not have a chat room on the site. We have a message forum. So my perspective on the administration’s logic is clear: Either they are lying or they were misinformed and hastily blocked it without confirming if there really was a chat feature,

“We have received well over a thousand e-mails from teachers thanking us for this service. Teachers who care and wish to understand the general perception students share can use (the Web site) to improve their classroom.”

Diane Turner, head of community relations for the Federal Way school district, countered Hussey’s argument.

“This is not a First Amendment rights issue,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a chat site or a message board. There is no way for us to determine if that kind of activity is appropriate for our students. We are committed and vigilant in making sure that these students are safe at any time that they use the Internet on our premises.”

Turner said the School Board “is very clear about the use of the Internet and how staff are supposed to be vigilant. Mr Hussey is welcome to contact the district, but until we have contact, our policy stands very clear.”

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565, eciepiela@fedwaymirror.com

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