Ky. schools implement content-filtering appliances

A cluster of school districts in western Kentucky has connected thousands of computers to content-filtering appliances from St. Bernard Software Inc.

The San Diego company's iPrism appliances have been filtering content for about 22,500 school computers since December, said Mike Howle, systems administrator for Ballard County Public Schools in Lacenter, Ky.

Under the Children's Internet Protection Act of 2000, the state's school districts must provide an Internet-filtering capability, Howle said.

The 25 school districts in the Kentucky education department's Region 1 have a total of 69,000 students. Two of the 25 districts elected to continue using their existing filtering technology, Howle said.

Howle led the effort to compare technology from several vendors and chose the St. Bernard iPrism appliances.

'It was pretty much straight out of the box and very configurable,' Howle said.

All the Hypertext Transfer Protocol traffic coming in and out of the 23 school districts goes through the iPrism appliance. The appliance validates each request and doesn't send inappropriate requests outside the district.

As an additional virus protection measure, Howle blocked outbound Port 25 so that the school district won't spread a virus should one make it through the filter.

The appliance also blocks traffic to high-bandwidth Web sites such as those that carry streaming audio and video. But the blocking can be lifted to let students view multimedia streams from educational sites, Howle said. Administrators also can selectively block sites from elementary pupils but not from high-school students.

Teachers have certain levels of administrative privilege so that if a Web site that they want their class to see is blocked, they can override the blocking, Howle said. Many sites get blocked simply because they host discussion forums, even if the content of those forums is appropriate, he said.

Initially, the iPrism appliances garnered mixed reactions because the system had been comparatively open before their installation.

'I didn't realize how many teachers, the first thing they came in in the morning, started streaming down their favorite radio stations,' Howle said.

Cracking down on such bandwidth hogging, though, resulted in noticeably faster response times in the first month of iPrism use, he said.

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