PHS starts using web filter system to block certain websites

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graphic by Avery Hom and Caroline Tan

From March 27 to 30, the GUEST WiFi network at Princeton High School and John Witherspoon was unavailable, causing students to have no access to the internet. Students were unable to use their laptops to do homework or classwork, and the Learning Commons became one of the only places where students could gain access to the internet using the Princeton Public Schools WiFi network. Facebook posts and messages were posted with complaints from students claiming their deprivation from cell phones without cellular data to use during school hours.

As a result of limited access to technology, some students found it difficult to complete homework and to check social media.

“I am [part] of many extracurricular activities. With these activities I usually stay after school and try [to] finish all my work, but since the internet was not available [on my laptop], completing my homework before leaving school that day became increasingly difficult,” said Janki Raythattha ’19.

Lilly Wolsk ’18 felt that at times the complaints about the WiFi were mainly due to teenagers’ dependence on technology.

“I found the WiFi cut to be a pain but to say that I felt at a loss would be too dramatic. I had some other friends that were struggling with it more but I think at that point, it was less about how they needed the WiFi for school and more about the addiction that we all have with our phones,” said Wolsk.

Students speculated numerous reasons as to why the WiFi was cut. Some students claimed that the French Exam “Le Grand Concours” was the reason as to why WiFi was temporarily shut off.

Others said that John Witherspoon’s PARCC testing seemed to be the reason why, as Princeton High School and John Witherspoon share many WiFi networks. Some even said that the WiFi was cut by the technology department in order to try and learn how to block the usage of some websites under the GUEST network.

The technology department announced that the WiFi was shut off primarily due to the PARCC testing at JW. With all of the PPS students using the WiFi network at the same time, there would be an increased possibility of the network crashing during the standardized test.

“All the bandwidth for the testing caused there to be no contention with other students using the service, because the testing requires everything we have,” said PHS Computer Science teacher, Graciela Elia. “But in the end, [everything] ran smoothly [as] there were no problems, and no one was logged out in the middle [of the test],” said Elia.


Before school, on a brisk March morning, Mr. Pembleton’s AP Art History class had already arrived in preparation to embark on their field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Prior to departure, Grayson Shanley-Barr ’18 and Amelia Wright ’18 wanted to look up exhibits to maximize their experience with the limited amount of time at the museum. Pulling up the link to the museum on her phone, Barr was met with a large red “X” coupled with the words “Web Page Blocked!” across the screen.

Barr’s situation is one that students have been facing with the introduction of the new web filter, Fortiguard, after PARCC testing. The company, Fortinet, groups web pages under categories ranging from “tobacco” to “global religion,” and the school selects certain categories to block on the GUEST wi-fi network. This new web filter only affects the GUEST network, as wired computers and computers connected to the private PPS network currently still use the older, more lenient filter.

“We try as best we can to make sure that we are not blocking educational sites and only blocking sites that are not educationally relevant,” said PHS Network Technician, Danny Turner. “There [are] federal rules on us having to have content filters and we are trying to finetune [and follow those regulations].”

However, other sites that students use on a routinely basis during their classes were also blocked, and some students explained how this will affect their productivity in schoolwork.

“I think [website bans] should be more targeted instead of a widespread blocking of sites.”

Other students complained about the district’s concealment of the various blocked websites.

“I didn’t even know [the new system] was implemented. One day [I noticed] that I couldn’t get on these websites, and there wasn’t really any transparency with the school about it. It was just [that] they [blocked certain websites] and we have to deal with it,” said Rahul Rai ’17.

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