By Gavi Azoff
This Tuesday, March 21, Newton Public Schools initiated a social media blockage on schools’ Wifi networks due to the needed bandwidth for standardized testing that is set to end on May 19.
The original announcement posted by the IT Department read that the only communication app exempt from the block would be Schoology. However, after teacher emails highlighting the necessity of websites like Facebook and Netflix, the ban has only remained on music streaming apps like Pandora and Spotify.
In addition, the following Thursday, March 23, Superintendent David Fleishman answered questions at a previously scheduled meeting with the South Senate where he explained that during a trial run of an online MCAS, schools were unable to access the test due to disruptions caused by streaming and social media usage.
Thus, as Director of Information Technology and Library Services Eileen Keane explains, the standardized testing required more bandwidth and thus the social media block was implemented.
“We did the infrastructure trials and what we were finding was that we didn’t have enough bandwidth and there was too much traffic on our network… [The] network team discussed what was causing the traffic jam on the networks [and] what we found was a lot of it was social media sites or streaming sites.
So we made the decision to look at what we could close off that would not have a major impact on learning and teaching,” Keane said.
Keane stresses the the department was very receptive to teachers’ emails and tried to accommodate to any requests or needs the faculty highlighted.
“Our goal was not to close people out at all. Our goal was to work with people and that’s something our department takes great pride in,” said Keane.
However, students like Vice President of South Senate Michael Ryter remained frustrated there was no formal announcement of the ban, and thus the majority of students learned about it through second hand sources.
“I found out about it mainly by the Denebola article, someone mentioned it to me about an hour before, senate or student leadership was not informed in any formal way. There was no discussion about it with student leadership prior to the announcement to teachers on Monday afternoon,” said Ryter.
Ryter also says that the announcement should have been given further in advance to allow teachers to make accommodations in their curriculum and students time to communicate with any club members.
Adding on, senior Sophia Franco agrees that most of the student upset was caused by miscommunication, as many students were quick to blame Fleishman, unaware of who initiated the ban.
“It just seems that there wasn’t even communication between like administration in the school and even David Fleishman, between them and the IT department who actually made the decision. I think a lot of people were quick to be like, ‘how could South do this’, and it’s like actually like not South, it is the city and the school’s IT department,” said Franco.
However, Keane explains that was no time to receive student input on this decision because the IT department was unaware of the tests’ needs before Pearson released the information and after infrastructure trials were completed.
Junior Benjamin Anderson-Krim was pleased to discover the ban was restricted to only music streaming websites as his main concern was the possible restrictions on means of communication for students.
“I know communication is crucial for many clubs including FBLA, South Senate, and Speech and Debate because they use social media to communicate with students. The ban could have been a major loss for organizations that rely on social media,” said Anderson-Krim.
To avoid the limited use of the school wifi, a number of students resorted to downloading Virtual Private Network (VPN) apps to continue using blocked social media websites. However, as Franco suggests, these VPNs still clog the network and thus students should avoid using them.
“I would not suggest it because I think the issue would only get worse and if IT had to react to that, they might react a little more severely and would probably set up a block for VPNs as well because there are some schools that are able to do that,” said Franco.
Adding on, Keane stresses that blocking any websites remains a one year occurrence because the IT department is now informed and understands what future preparations have to be made.
“We are going to increase bandwidth, we are looking at different providers, and we will up our bandwidths every soon. We are looking at different companies and pricing, but there are strict rules,” said Keane.
The department also continues to actively pursue other measures such as redundancy, which requires the department to reroute traffic to another location or network in the city.
Overall, Anderson-Krim reflects that the social media ban is not a huge concern as he strongly believes that a solution that will satisfy all parties can be achieved.
“All I would say is that as long as there are no major changes in terms of strictness at the moment, this is a workable position in the interest of South. MCAS testing using the internet should be getting [the] bandwidth needed. South should remain a place with freedom of choice without impeding testing. I know other schools have much less freedom [and] block more sites, so we need to make sure South remains a beacon for communication and freedom,” said Anderson-Krim.
Keane wants to emphasize that faculty members have been very gracious during the ban and hopes her team’s cooperation with their Newton Public Schools colleagues shined through.
“We are really fortunate we have such a dynamic IT team behind the scenes that people don’t know about and coming up with really creative solutions and brain power and the staff and principals were really supportive,” said Keane.