“Low Probability - High Consequence Threats”: How DCPS Decides What Websites to Restrict
Every Penguin knows the feeling. The feeling when they find that perfect article. The one that will secure an A on an extremely niche paper. The keyword is exact, the date is recent, and the website is reliable. But just as they click that perfect link, they discover that it’s blocked.
In 2000, Congress enacted the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) which requires schools to monitor students’ activity and access to the Internet. In compliance with this, DCPS requires students to sign the Responsible Use Agreement Acknowledgement Form and deploys filtering software to all their distributed devices.
Recently, DCPS shifted its internet filtration software from GoGuardian to Lightspeed. The two software have similar features, such as the ability to blacklist certain websites and monitor certain student activity. However, Lightspeed is more precise, for example allowing students to access specific educational YouTube videos, while GoGuardian can only block the entire website.
DCPS specifically pivoted to Lightspeed because of its adaptable nature. Lightspeed constantly updates its repertoire of whitelisted websites as they are requested by students and staff. It offers multiple levels of content filtration depending on the age of users.
Through this program, the DCPS Office of Data and Technology (ODT) can monitor potentially at-risk individuals based on their search history. Lightspeed can track devices it has been installed on, giving the ODT even more information on users of DCPS-issued devices.
Cyrus Verrani, DCPS’ Chief of Data and Technology said, “at any given time, DCPS, ODT, and OCTO are working on several initiatives to enhance and secure our current technology environment. Our students’ learning and academic success is at the core of everything we do.” Mr. Verrani explained how the ODT strives to avoid “low probability - high consequence” threats that come with students’ unpredictable use of the internet.
This mindset led to DCPS’ specific system of content filtration. Using Lightspeed as a starting point, the ODT creates a database of educational websites and whitelists them. After this, they blacklist harmful websites with inappropriate messages such as gambling, sexual content, and violence. Finally, they created a Microsoft Form that allows students and staff to request particular sites to be unblocked.
Some Walls students believe more needs to be done to create an adequate database of accessible resources. Carmen Couts (‘26) said, “sometimes for school when I need to access certain websites … they'll be blocked, and I'll have to use my home computer.” Couts noted that this doesn’t significantly affect her, but it might harm someone who doesn’t have access to a non-DCPS device.
Other students share some worries about the policy and believe that no content should be blocked whatsoever. Ereftu Patel (‘25) said, “it's honestly up to the students… to use websites responsibly, so I think that freedom [to access all content] would help.” Despite Patel’s belief that students should handle their online presence alone, current policy under CIPA requires all schools to exercise some control over their students’ online life.
On the other end of the spectrum, some Penguins see the benefits of filtering content. Couts (‘26) said, “I would say [DCPS’ filtration system] is appropriate considering that this is a public school and… the filtration could be used as a safety resource.” Couts explained that there are issues that come with navigating the online world and there may be some virtue to school-wide surveillance.
Mr. Verrani is aware of the criticism of DCPS’ policies. In addition to noting the requirements of CIPA, he responded, “content filtering and moderation [are] also important to ensuring students stay focused on learning while protecting them from the many cyber threats that grow more sophisticated by the day.” Due to the various laws requiring schools to monitor such threats, efforts for new policymaking may be futile.
Mr. Verrani expressed his confidence in Lightspeed's ability to balance safety and real-world online exposure, saying “DCPS is committed to providing a safe online learning environment for our students without limiting their access to different perspectives.”