The laptops Franklin Community High School students will get this school year won’t be able to pull up Facebook or illegally download movies and television shows.
Each of the 1,650 Chromebooks students are receiving has been loaded with a filter or a program that blocks websites the school district considers inappropriate.
Franklin is the third local public high school to give all students computers to use for schoolwork. And the school learned from the missteps of other local schools, that last year gave iPads to students who started downloading apps and games and playing in class when they were supposed to be working.
The school also listened to parents, who asked them to be sure the devices had safeguards so the students didn’t have complete access to everything on the Internet once they left school.
The filter allows students to log online whether they’re at school, a coffee shop or at home, and they don’t have to worry about Franklin’s Internet network crashing and halting Internet access to the 1,650 students.
And installing filters directly on the devices means that the same sets of websites will be blocked, no matter where students use the devices, technology director Matt Sprout said.
But Sprout knows the Internet changes every day, and there’s no way to keep up with every program that’s created to override or get around a filter that blocks a website. That’s why parents still should ask their students how they’re using the Chromebooks and to monitor what they’re doing online, Sprout said.
Because this is the first year Franklin is using the Chromebooks, Sprout knows there will be mistakes made that students, parents and school officials will need to learn from. But right now the school district has made all of the possible preparations, he said.
“The goal here isn’t to be a parent,” Sprout said. “The goal is to empower the parents. And one of the ways to do that is to install the filter on the Chromebook.”
The high school received $500,000 from the Franklin Redevelopment Commission to buy the devices, which are similar to laptops. All high school students will get the devices so they can regularly use the Internet for research projects and complete more online-based assignments.
For months, Sprout has been looking at ways to keep the Chromebooks as secure as possible, including meeting with a group of Franklin parents to ask them how they thought Franklin should monitor how the devices are used.
Options included programing the Chromebooks so that every time a student used the device to get online they connected to the school district’s server and filter.
Also, technology workers could show parents how to change their home’s online filters and how to update the device’s security settings themselves. Center Grove and Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson schools used similar methods to keep students away from non-education-related websites when they started issuing iPads to students last school year.
Instead, the Franklin parents asked the school district to install a filter directly on the devices.
The Chromebook filters allow school officials to block different categories of websites, such as anything pornographic, connected with drug use, piracy sites and social media, including Twitter and Facebook. The school district also can update the lists throughout the school year with new sites teachers or administrators want to block and can monitor the unblocked websites students visit, Sprout said.
In addition to what parents asked for, Sprout also talked to other schools about what worked best.
Other school employees told Sprout not to link the devices to Franklin’s server and filter unless he planned to have someone at school district at all times to handle problems.
If the school district’s Internet connection failed, then a student making finishing touches to a project due the next day might not be able to finish the work, Sprout said.
The two local school districts that issued students devices last school year both made changes after their original content filters and usage policies didn’t work as well as planned.
Center Grove and Indian Creek were the first local school districts to give all of their high school students tablets, and Indian Creek also provided iPads to middle school students. And both school districts learned quickly to deal with the problems that can come with thousands of teenagers who are suddenly connected to the Internet and trying to access websites that they shouldn’t.
Hundreds of Center Grove High School students found ways to reprogram the devices within a day of receiving them so they could add their own apps and games. The school district then had to collect and update the iPads to ensure students were using them only for schoolwork. Center Grove also had to start looking for new filtering options after the first program stopped working.
Indian Creek initially allowed students to download games and apps onto the devices, but the middle school and high school changed that policy after too many students played games in class. The school district also plans to talk more with students and parents this fall about the importance of Internet safety after the parent of an Indian Creek Middle School student discovered her 12-year-old daughter was exchanging emails with a 20-year-old man.