Suggestions to help when districts are blocking sites needed for an educational activity in the classroom.

Jill I can share with you a form we use here in Baltimore County that
allows a teacher to put in a request that a site be "opened up" for
access. There is a small committee of diverse educators who then review
the request and a decision is made within 72 hours.
Ryan Imbriale

Forsyth County Schools (GA) has an online request system set up where teachers may request that sites be unblocked. The lingo on the request page goes like this: "The District's technology resources are provided for educational and professional purposes that promote and are consistent with the instructional goals of the Forsyth County School System. Use of computers and network resources outside the scope of this educational purpose is strictly prohibited.
Please be sure that you have the correct address before submitting it to be unblocked. Test it at home first if you are able. Be aware that a simple misspelling can take you to a very inappropriate site that you did not intend. An incorrect extension such as using .COM instead of .GOV can take you to an adult content site. The owners of these sites are counting on users getting to their site due to misspellings and incorrect extensions.
If your site was blocked, read the message on the Fortigate [Forsyth's web content filtering appliance] screen. It will state which category was blocked and why. If it is blocked as "Adult", "Illegal", "Spyware", etc. then you likely have an incorrect address and should check before submitting. You must indicate the category for which Fortigate is blocking the site or it will not be unblocked.
Do not submit sites that are blocked due to the Keyword Filter. The keyword filter overrides even the explicitly exempted sites so there is nothing we can do to unblock it. Personal Storage and Photo Sharing sites will not be unblocked.
Enter the web site address EXACTLY as you see it displayed on the Fortigate notification that it was being blocked.
If you can't get to a website and did not get a Fortigate notification contact the school-based Instructional Technology Specialist. Websites will be reviewed and unblocked once a week. If you have an emergency and need a site unblocked right away contact your ITS.
I have thoroughly and carefully read the above information and I understand the District's web usage policies. " ----

Hi Katrina, I can identify with your frustration and I validate your experience! I’m really excited about the field of study you’re working on. We need more educators to pursue these types of topics.

I know that what has worked for me in the past is reaching out to the network administration (and/or whoever the decision makers are) and advocating my case in a positive way, focusing on the student learning outcomes involved. Even if you don’t get immediate results, if you keep working with them, through your positive expectations and focus on the students (avoiding laying blame and understanding the many compounding factors affecting school networks) you will eventually find you have allies.

It can take some time but it’s so worthwhile to bring people on board – then they become advocates, too. When you focus on student learning, people often find it hard to disagree with you. Believe in them – they may not have the support or resources to do their job as they’d like either. Maybe they just need someone to help them see the teacher and student perspective a little bit more.

Try visiting with your network admins face to face and find out what factors are affecting their decisions, show them student work or invite them to your classroom to see how you work with students in a way that supports responsible use. Provide a lesson plan to your site administrator that shows how the standards are connected to this learning tool. Include a justification for using the given site or sites like it. He or she may be able to use that to specifically request that your needs be addressed.

Just a few thoughts! Hang in there – we hear you, H.

I just want to second everything Holly said. We had a similar experience
when our tech team was required to install a filter. We have SonicWall.
Everytime something legitimate was blocked, I was on the phone to them
explaining what we needed and why. They were great. Turns out they had set
a lot of the parameters without input from anyone else and were happy to
start modifying as they learned what our needs were and also how
far-reaching some of their choices turned out to be. For instance, I had a
class one day trying to search on the Titanic disaster and we couldn't even
do the search, even in InfoTrac. Turns out the techs had blocked anything
with the initial letters "tit"! Needless to say, they fixed it immediately.
I have continous dialogs with my team and they are very cooperative and
helpful. They have even given me 30-minute unblocking permission for sights
I deem legitimate and necessary. Of course, it doesn't hurt the the head of
the team is very open-minded and a member of this group - Jeff Miller. Hats
off to Jeff for being a great head of tech to work with. As long as what I
ask for benefits the students, they're with me.
If you continue to meet resistance, turn your tech coordinator on to some of
Ian Jukes research on how people under 30 leaern. That should convince them
at least that gaming and interactive sites are necessary in today's learning
I certainly understand your frustration. Hang in there and good luck.

Katrina, I agree with Holly's recommendation for approaching
administration with this issue-I would also like to suggest that you
include your principal in your approach to the network administration.
For what is is worth, Las Cruces PS is addressing this problem in the
following way:

If there is a website that a teacher wants to use in her class, she/he
sends me an email justifying the request (principal is copied into the
email.) I have the ability to add the site to a whitelist (the filtering
service we use is Barracuda-I suspect most webfilters have this option).
Of course, I preview the site before I add it). When I first started
this I had lots of requests (and lots were blocked because of the gaming
issue) but we now have a really good list of educational sites so the
requests are fewer and fewer.