Is it more unethical to allow threats to students/schools or to deny students/teachers access to instructionally-relevant Web-based tools and content?
I think it would be unethical to not allow students (K-12) unrestricted internet access if the web was a necessity. However the web is not a necessity in a K-12 setting. I believe using a computer to do research is a necessity but there are many alternate means that are much more educationally focused for which to obtain information using a computer. When we are asked to do assignments, it is expected that our outside sources be scholarly in nature. As of now full web based scholarly outlets are still burgeoning. The number one resource for scholarly materials is journal databases. Even the poorest media centers have access to one or two journal databases.
With that said I believe we are moving to a place where unrestricted internet access will be a necessity and at that point it will be unethical to deny students access. Because of this transition state I think it is more unethical right now to deny teachers unrestricted access to the internet. Teachers need exposed to the possibilities now so that when we reach the time when unrestricted access is a necessity, they will have the skills to lead and guide students.
Having IT experience I know that it is possible to differentiate restrictions. It is possible for teacher computers to be defined in a large network and have open restrictions while student computers (or login accounts) have needed restrictions. There could even be a process for the student to engage in that would allow these restrictions to be lifted once the school’s liability was substantially reduced for that student
School districts would really much rather have unrestricted internet access. Unrestricted access is cheaper, there is less maintenance of equipment and fewer hardware/software compatibility issues. They are forced to restrict access because they have not been able to free themselves of the liability.
I believe that at an appropriate age or mentality a student’s actions should be able to be gauged. If it can be proven that the student intentionally abused the internet then the educational institution should not be liable. I think the best course of action for schools is to work towards getting students to an appropriate understanding of the dangers of the unrestricted internet usage thus removing the legal liability that fuels so much of the reasoning for blocking access to the internet. I believe that ISTE’s NETS standards lay out a really nice framework for moving in this direction.