Graphic by Eve Loehrer

Eve Loehrer and Vin Parazin

After coming back from summer break this year, many students and teachers noticed that some of their favorite apps and websites had been blocked by the district on school computers. Some of these sites included Canva,  Vimeo, and Chrome Extensions, which are used in classes throughout the school. This left many with questions, as they had never been blocked in the past and hadn’t caused problems in classes.

Canva, a graphic design platform with a plethora of templates and layouts, is one of the blocked sites that caused the most issues for classes, especially the yearbook staff. This year, Herff-Jones, the company all the Olathe Schools create their yearbooks through, partnered with Canva to open up more design capabilities for creating yearbooks. Yet these tools were not available for students to use.

“It’s really handcuffed and hampered what students can do when designing the yearbook,” adviser Robert Cave said.

However, the district did have a reason for blocking Canva. The app was used in a phishing scam to collect information from users, and it may have affected all the Olathe Schools.

“I’m all about safety, I understand the safety portion of it, but I think just blocking the site outright, without communicating that, without talking to the teachers, I think was a mistake,” Cave said.

Another application that was blocked without teachers’ knowledge was  Vimeo. AP Chemistry teacher Rhonda Reist had used Vimeo to share video lessons with her students for years, and has had to adapt to the change.

“I’ve started on a YouTube channel, but it takes an enormous amount of time to move those videos,” Reist said. “I think that’s a waste of time.”

Although some of these blocked applications have unblocked alternatives teachers can use instead, other tools cannot be replaced. One of these tools is the Chrome Extensions, which offers a wide range of features that can be easily accessed through the browser and add features to other sites. An extension used by students in Spanish teacher Gersom Paredes’ class is Easy Accent Marks, which is used to make typing in Spanish easier.

“I was really surprised when Easy Accent Marks was blocked this year. I was really just trying to figure out why that was blocked, because it’s just a simple extension,” Paredes said. “I do acknowledge that there are cases where students have manipulated the extensions to their own benefit and used the extensions with their laptop in an inappropriate way, but I haven’t had any issues with that, I keep it strictly educational.”

Junior Alex Teasley used an ad blocker offered by Chrome Extensions so they could do their homework with fewer distractions. However, their ad-free learning is now over since the Extensions store was blocked.

“I can’t go on a bunch of sites because I just get overrun with ads all the time. It’s really annoying because I had an ad-blocker and it was fine for a very long time,” Teasley said. “I don’t understand the rationale.”

However, students are no strangers to having their resources blocked without explanation. For example, many students used the extension Teleparty to watch Netflix with their friends last school year. It allowed students to connect with their friends even if they couldn’t physically be together. However, the extension was blocked on district devices last winter.

“They blocked [Teleparty], which sucked because I actually used it with my friends,” Teasley said. “I kind of understand why they wouldn’t want that happening during the school day, but I don’t understand how it would happen during the school day anyway.”

Students and teachers have been pushing for the district to allow more freedom, and their requests were finally answered. On Friday, September 25, many sites including Canva and Vimeo were unblocked on school devices.

“I didn’t expect to get the email that it was back available, because they were so adamant that it would not be,” Reist said. “I’m just glad I don’t have to worry about moving all those videos, but I do have a really cool-looking logo on my YouTube site.”