Parent warns Olentangy firewalls don't extend to personal laptops

Paul Comstock
ThisWeek

The parent of two Olentangy Schools students said he has protested to the school district that it has failed to provide enough internet protection to students learning at home on family-owned devices.

Daniel Tekle of Lewis Center has two sons, ages 6 and 8.

After choosing Olentangy's hybrid in-school and remote-learning schedule for his sons, he said, he purchased two Chromebook laptops for the boys.

He said he had set up three accounts for each device, and one used a username and password provided by the district.

Olentangy Local School District administrative building

The district set up the student usernames and passwords for Google Classroom, which gives students access to the district's educational material, he said.

Tekle said he realized the accounts created by the district lacked security when he noticed his sons watching a YouTube video. YouTube blocks access to accounts that identify the user as under age 13, he said. A support page on Google, which owns YouTube, confirms age requirements.

Tekle, who works in IT for a private company, said he discovered the school account allows access to all internet sites, including adult sites.

All Olentangy buildings have firewalls that limit internet access for students at school, he said, but that protection doesn't extend to their homes.

"We do rely on our families and parents to supply devices for students and to partner with us to filter student web-browsing at home," said Amanda Beeman, Olentangy Schools’ assistant director of communications.

Access for students using the district accounts at home is unlimited, Tekle said, "unless the parent is technical enough to know how to get into their home router and secure their own personal network.”

“That's the only way you're going to stop this stuff from coming in,” he said. “I figured it out because I work in IT, and I blocked it at my home."

Tekle estimated that only 10% of parents have such technical capability. Even if they do, he said, unlimited access might return if the student uses the device at a friend's house. 

He said about 300 parents discussed the issue on a Facebook group page, and many shared his concerns. Others, he said, wrote that limited internet access should be the parents' responsibility.

Tekle said the group page – Lewis Center Networking – deleted the discussion when the comments became heated.

Sara K. Yoder-Flowers, an administrator of the page, said Lewis Center Networking is a business-networking page.

"It is not a page for complaining about such issues like this," she said. "We kept the post up, though, until people commenting were being rude. (Tekle) was told by several members to take it up with the school, and it's his responsibility to block sites at home." 

Some school districts provide internet protection to students learning at home, Tekle said. He pointed to Hilliard City Schools as an example.

"Olentangy is not a one-to-one district ... such as Hilliard schools ... as we do not provide a device for every student in our district," Beeman said.

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