Okinawa teachers expand Internet filtering software complaints
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Pacificwide concern among teachers about DODDS Internet filtering software grew Friday with two more grievances being filed against school administration.
Thirty-seven teachers, about half of the faculty at Kadena High School, joined in a grievance contending the school’s Blue Coat filtering system is so restrictive it is hampering teaching as well as learning.
Also Friday, 26 teachers from Bechtel Elementary School filed a grievance.
The two Okinawa grievances come on the heels of one recently filed by Department of Defense Dependent Schools teachers at Seoul American High School in South Korea for the same reasons.
This year, DODDS added new filtering categories to block Web sites. Among them are arts and entertainment, to include museum, music, news and film sites; sites that contain MP3 files; and personal sites such as YouTube and MySpace.
Gil Mueller, who teaches government and is author of the Kadena grievance, called the filtering program “absurd.”
“It hampers efforts to educate children and makes the curriculum unworkable,” he said Friday in an interview. “Yesterday, I was helping a student with a poetry assignment, and we couldn’t even reach Robert Browning’s page. At the point where a school system pays to prevent education, you have to wonder about the efficacy of the decision process.”
The grievance contends “this censorship constitutes an un-negotiated change in working conditions … and most significantly prevents KDHS personnel from delivering the most effective education available … .”
Blocks, for example, have prevented art teachers and their students from accessing museum sites, according to a partial list compiled in the grievance.
Charles Steitz, spokesman for DODDS-Pacific, based on Okinawa, said schools have an obligation “to ensure students have a safe and productive Web browsing experience while in our schools. To this end, we categorically block many inappropriate sites.”
He added that sites needed for valid educational purposes can be made available at the discretion of teachers and principals.
“The process to unblock a site is coordinated through the principal and the ET (educational technician) and takes less than 20 minutes,” he said.
Teachers, however, say in the grievance that the appeal process, when everything works perfectly, is “unwieldy and burdensome.” When administrators or technicians are too busy, the process “ceases completely,” the grievance stated.
Further, teachers, not technicians, should be making decisions as to which sites to block, it said. Otherwise, technicians become “arbitrators of pedagogical appropriateness in areas quite beyond their knowledge, competence and training.”
Mueller said that despite the best efforts of Kadena’s technical staff, there is a backup of requests, citing one teacher who has had a request in since September.
According to the complaint, teachers want the upgraded version of the Blue Coat filters removed from all KDHS computers and want the school system to use last school year’s filtering system. Complainants, calling the new filtering “waste and abuse,” also want DODDS officials to reveal the cost of the system and explain the reason they decided to use it.
Steitz said Friday he did not have cost figures available.
He said DODDS management will review the grievance under the negotiated agreement with the Federal Education Association, the teachers’ union.
Partial list of grievances
Following is a partial list of complaints Kadena High School teachers cited in a grievance over a Blue Coat Internet filtering system DODDS-Pacific put into place this year.
Art and art history teachers cannot access art museum sites to enable students to view and evaluate classical and contemporary art.Teachers who need student access to graphics for student and teacher presentations cannot download otherwise educational and appropriate images.Media teachers cannot access film databases.Media specialists cannot access online references to determine the appropriateness of book and media orders.Social studies teachers cannot assign research projects to students on topics related to the arts because the resources are blocked.Foreign language teachers are blocked from accessing cultural sites as well as many interactive online practice sites that the filter reads as “games.”Language arts teachers, who teach speech and argument, are effectively prohibited from assigning any research that requires access to information that may in any way be deemed inappropriate or culturally insensitive not by educators or parents but by Blue Coat filters.— Will Morris