When a majority of well-meaning students are knowingly in violation of a school rule, perhaps it's time to rethink the rule itself


photo by D. Crickets

It's not at all uncommon for students to willfully violate the school rule against VPN usage when they need access to information for classes.

Ella Backauskas, Reporter

People generally follow the rules. We stop at stop signs. We don’t walk out of stores without paying. We stay in class until the bell rings. 

And there’s a good reason. Following the rules prevents our community from erupting into chaos.

Yet some rules are broken constantly, and often by well-meaning citizens. Did you know it’s illegal to drink any beverage while driving? Another illegality is the use of a fake name on the internet, which is something I remember doing in elementary school to access informational websites that required a name when my librarian told me to. And here at NASH, everyone knows it’s against the rules to use a VPN, despite the fact that seemingly everyone uses one.

When a rule is so often broken, it’s worth asking if the rule itself is the problem.

Having a VPN on your school laptop can land you in detention or even suspension. Of course, the restriction against VPNs in school is based on good intentions, as the school district must make an effort to ensure that a firewall prevents students from accessing dangerous or inappropriate content online.  Nevertheless, the current policy of restricting VPNs fails in practice.

Long ago, I ditched using my school laptop for the very reason that I would like to use a VPN to make my schoolwork easier and not get in trouble.  Because I use my own laptop, it is not considered North Allegheny school property and therefore does not apply to the “no VPN” rule.

However, I asked my classmates who use their school laptops with VPNs why they do so, and the same few answers popped up each time. First, many websites that NA deems inappropriate are actually valuable informational sites. Second, the internet at school is much faster when the security walls put in place are gone.

Let’s say you’re studying the famous sculpture “Ecstasy of St. Teresa” in AP Euro.  Good luck trying to learn more online.  Try googling “breast cancer” or “by proxy” or “heroin prevention” — or when your calculus textbook introduces the term “jerk” (which is the third derivative of position), don’t try looking it up on a school computer. In certain classes, writing about current events or scientific research is difficult when students don’t have access to useful sites.

In three of my classes, I asked the people using school laptops if they use a VPN. In my first class, 23 out of 26 people said they use a VPN. In my second, 22 out of 27 said they used one. In my third class, 28 out of 29 students said they used a VPN. That is an average of 89%.

So, what is there to do about the issue? Unfortunately, since there are, in fact, sites that are inappropriate for use in school, the barriers that are set in place are not going anywhere. However, I feel as though suspension for any and all VPN usage is an unreasonable punishment. If roughly 89% of students use a VPN, and they’re all suspended, that leaves only 11% of enrolled students still in school.

It’s hard to conclude that nearly 90 percent of the student body has little regard for the importance of school rules. What’s more believable is that the rule against VPN usage needs revising.  After all, if the school were to take the time to punish every violation of the VPN policy, the building would be largely empty.