Western Kentucky schools filter Web content

Inappropriate content such as pornography won't reach the PCs used by thousands of students in western Kentucky.

Most schools in the state's Region 1 are using content-filtering appliances from St. Bernard Software Inc. to screen out content that students are prohibited from seeing by the Children's Internet Protection Act of 2000.

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.

In November, 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 a bank of iPrism appliances. Each filtering device covers about 1,000 PCs, Howle said.

Virus blocking

The appliances validate each request and don't send inappropriate requests outside the district.

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

The appliances also block 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 administrative privilege to override the blocking, Howle said.

By default, the appliances filter out online forums and bulletin boards even if the content of those forums is appropriate, Howle said.

Initially, the iPrism appliances garnered mixed reactions because the schools' Internet connections had been comparatively open before the devices' 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 during the first month of iPrism use, he said.

Ultimately, despite the new filtering tool, teachers and school administrators must keep an eye on Internet content in the classroom. 'This by no means takes the place of good supervision,' Howle said.

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