7 Essentials for Web Filtering for K-12 Schools

Resources designed for School & District IT Administrators to select and assess web filtering solutions to meet the requirements of an education environment

All Web Filters are NOT Created Equal

So how do we tell the difference between basic web filters and those that are suitable for a K-12 environment? Why does this difference exist, and why does it matter?

This article answers these questions and presents seven key factors that every technology leader should consider when assessing their school or district’s web filtering solution.

k-12 school web filtering

web filter for school

How to Tell if Your School’s Web Filter is Designed for Education

You may assume that your school district’s web filter is good enough for your school or the entire district but if you look a little deeper, you may find that it’s not as good as it has to be to provide the level of protection necessary to safeguard school data and students.

The following are six key indicators that your web filter (or the one you are considering) has not been designed to handle the demands and statutory requirements for web filtering in a K-12 education environment.

❌ The filter is an add-on to a security suite
❌ Policy tools are limited
❌ Only supports the English language
❌ Authenticated access isn’t present
❌ Standard evidence logging
❌ The filter is not part of an education-focused suite

Learn more about how to assess if your web filter was designed for education and the impact that could have on students and school data.

web filter for schools

Flexible Policy Controls in Web Filtering

Many school districts, particularly those who are larger or in urban areas, have complex needs when it comes to internet access and digital safety.

It is typical to have students that span a broad range of ages, nationalities, and who have a diverse mix of device types, some with 24/7 Wi-Fi access from their own devices.

The web filtering policy controls within Smoothwall Filter allow schools and districts to address their specific needs in an intuitive, flexible, and powerful policy system.

All Smoothwall Filter policies consist of four elements – Who, What, Where and When. This provides granular controls to administrators allowing them to web filtering policies based on user groups, content categories, location IP, and time.

Learn more about the flexible policy controls within our web filtering solution for K-12 schools here.

school web filter with flexible policy control

best web filter for schools

Non-English Web Filtering

School districts with student populations with English learners must have a filter capable of handling different languages.

Although English will be the majority of content used for education purposes, it’s common for searches to show illicit material to start in a student’s native language, often because filters pay less attention to this.

What does this mean for a quality web filter?
What should you be looking for when considering a new filter?

Read more about web filtering content in other languages.

web filters for school districts

Web Filtering and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)

Allowing students to connect their own smartphones, tablets, and laptops to the school wireless network is becoming a standard in today’s schools. Recreational BYOD filtering is particularly important for after-school programs, out-of-school clubs, study groups, and boarding schools.

A combination of two key technologies within Smoothwall Filter make this possible – transparent filtering and 802.1x BYOD authentication.

How do they work?

For a step by step breakdown of how transparent web filtering and BYOD authentication works, read the full article.

school web filter BYOD network diagram

best web filters for school districts

Web Filtering and AI Evaluation

Machine learning is an important part of digital safety technology – particularly when it comes to web filtering.
It is used in different ways however and this can make a comparative analysis between alternative solutions difficult to do.

For example, closed-loop learning, human-directed learning, and then various models beneath, such as simple HMM or TensorFlow. All of these techniques can be applied well or poorly.

The most important question to ask is where does your filter apply these AI techniques?

Usually, it will be used in one of two areas:

1. In line with the web filtering in real-time
Real-time filtering is either baked into a network appliance or is part of a filtering client. There are occasional updates to the rules database, but generally, the filter makes all decisions locally.

2. Out-of-band offline processing
With out-of-band intelligence, uncategorized URLs are fed back to the filter vendor, and the site is then visited by an automated web crawler or “spider”. The results are then passed through the intelligent system, and a category is attached to the URL. The categorization makes it back to the point of filtering in regular URL list updates.

Read the full article on web filtering and AI evaluation here, including an in-live and out-of-band chart to make it easier to compare with your current provider.

 

school web filter

Web Filtering and CIPA – What Schools Need to Know

The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was enacted by Congress in 2000 to address concerns about children’s access to obscene or harmful content over the Internet.

CIPA imposes certain requirements on schools or libraries that receive discounts for Internet access or internal connections through the E-rate program – a program that makes certain communications services and products more affordable for eligible schools and libraries.

For school districts that require government E-rate funding, it is a good idea to revisit the Children’s Internet Protection (CIPA) requirements and guidelines to ensure you are compliant.

Read more about CIPA – what it requires, who it applies to, and how a content-aware approach to web filtering can help schools exceed CIPA expectations.

CIPA and web filtering for schools

education web filter

Choosing the Right Web Filter for Your School District Isn’t a Straightforward Decision Anymore

Digital safety technologies have expanded in recent years and the traditional web filter now has several important relatives. These include digital monitoring, classroom management solutions, digital record keeping, Google Classroom, and Active Directory.

Understanding how they function alongside (and sometimes overlap with) your web filter is important to ensure you achieve maximum impact from each and don’t inadvertently compromise the security of your network or the safety of your students.

Read the full article to learn about the solutions that integrate versus those that align.

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