Firewall changes ignite frustration

At the beginning of the school year a new firewall was put in place of the old. This put more restrictions on what content students have access to in their school day. On Sept. 16 students and teachers were not able to access classroom resources that would be approved by the old firewall. Access was inconsistent as well. Sites like Facebook were unblocked and resources like online textbooks were.

This new firewall severely contradicts the Katy ISD Wi-Fi access policy for the district. Students are encouraged to bring their mobile devices to school to use in the classroom for research and classroom activities, but if the Wi-Fi Internet blocks many educational websites then students cannot use those devices. The technology changes and increased leniency was a signal of progress. To put this firewall in place is a step back from that and renders those important changes useless.

Since the firewall was changed, teachers have had to restructure lesson plans to fit around the new restricted access. Their frustration and confusion has fueled many complaints and questions directed to the district’s technology department. The district solution is for every teacher to submit a help desk ticket for every website they encounter that is blocked for the wrong reasons. Through this solution, the firewall issue will not be solved until months from now.

While the solution could take months, the new firewall was supposed to be put into use before the school year even started. If it had been set into place before the school year had started, there might have been more time for the district to adjust to or even reverse these changes. But becuase it was left to the beginning of the school year, students and teachers felt betrayed for not being notified of the changes.

The old firewall censored content by subject but this new change to the system is run through keywords. So essentially the school web content and access is being censored in the same sense that certain literature novels were censored in previous years. The key words that the system blocks are often misinterpreted so a student could be searching for something that would be considered school appropriate but to the computer, searches can lead to innapropriate content so it blocks it. This kind of restriction only results in problems that cannot be fixed in all cases. Not all of the rules of the firewall apply to everyone and some but not all are put at a severe disadvantage.

There will always be loopholes in firewalls. There is no possible way around it. Instead of putting the innocent at a disadvantage to punish the few, accept that there is no true solution to closing loopholes. The district needs to put the firewall back to the way it used to be instead of making matters worse.

The district solution of individual help desk tickets might be able to help but it is essentially working back to the way the firewall used to be. There was no real point in putting in a new firewall. All it did was generate irritated students and teachers and prevented the learning process from taking place rather than what it should be doing, progressing it.