What’s Going On with the VPN Ban?

A VPN running on a tablet. “We wanted to make sure we’re changing the culture,” says Mr. Hamilton.

VPNs have long been a common method for West Side students to access websites blocked by the school filter. They’re incredibly easy: simply download a VPN app from the App Store or Google Play and connect to it when you want to access a blocked website. Once you’re connected, the VPN “tricks” the network you’re connected to by telling it you’re connecting from another place. But recently, the school administration announced that every device they see using a VPN will be temporarily banned from using the school network. What’s going on with this “VPN ban”?

As of October 28th, if a device is found to be using a VPN, the network will simply stop allowing connections from it for 30 days. Repeat offenders will be handled on a case-by-case basis. Mr. Hamilton, West Side’s technology director, says this move by the administration ensures they are following federal guidelines. In order to receive federal funding, public schools must follow the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which means they must prevent students from accessing harmful content on their network. “Essentially, we were just noticing an increase in VPN use at the school,” he says. “Be it legitimate or otherwise, it still is circumventing any filtering we have in place. In order to qualify for [federal funds], you have to be CIPA compliant. Openly allowing VPN connections on our network is poking holes in that.”

Additionally, blocking VPN traffic is becoming increasingly difficult for the school. Blocking some evasive VPNs, in particular, requires demanding tactics that slow the network down. “In order to block such traffic, [schools] are having to make their network almost unusable, which, again, results in kids finding other ways [to circumvent filters], and the cycle continues,” says Mr. Hamilton.

Many students who have previously used VPNs are upset with the VPN ban. “We used VPNs to communicate via social media for clubs, group projects, and other practical purposes,” says Isani Panigrahi, 12. “Banning many news sites, social media sites, etc. is a bit too far. We even need them to communicate with our family members because the signal in our school is awful…I think the VPN ban ultimately doesn’t serve our interests.”

Carmen Benes-Magana, 12, agrees. “I think this works against what the school is trying to do,” she says. “Students are smart and find other ways around filtering…I think the school needs to [find other ways] to resolve this without costing people money.”

This kind of reaction from students is exactly what the administration is trying to change with the ban. “Rather than find ways around our network, we wanted to make sure we’re changing the culture so that students are having an open dialogue with teachers. If there’s a legitimate thing they need unblocked on our network, then we want to know about it and work with students,” says Mr. Hamilton. The culture change that the school wants to bring about with the VPN ban will change it for the better—hopefully this is the first step toward making it happen.

Leave A Comment