500 schools block student access to popular teacher-rating Web site

Schooldistricts across the nation are shutting out a popular Web site that givesstudents a forum to voice opinions about their teachers.”[Schooladministrators] don’t want to listen to what the students have to sayabout their education,” said Michael Hussey, a co-founder ofratemyteachers.com.Since its creation two years ago, nearly 500schools or school districts have blocked on-campus computer access toratemyteachers.com, a Web site which provides students an opportunity togive feedback about more than 400,000 teachers at more than 23,000 schools,Hussey said. The site allows students to anonymously assess the clarityand helpfulness of a teacher using a five-point scale. Students may also rankthe easiness of a class, but that score is not factored into the teacher’soverall ranking. Most students submit comments about their teacher.About 1,800 high school student volunteers screen the submitted commentsfor threats, profanity, sexual references or for ones unrelated to ateacher’s performance. Visitors to the site can also”red-flag” a comment to have it reviewed by an adult. About 60percent of the comments on ratemyteachers.com are positive, according tothe Web site. Comments on the Web site range from thankful praise toharsh criticism.”She is completely awesome. She has helped methrough so much stuff with school and for college next year. Gotta loveher!” one East Coast student wrote.”She needs to be fired. Besides the fact that she’s a Nazi, she never tells us anything,” astudent wrote about another teacher.Ratemyteachers.com receivesmany requests to remove a comment or the name of a teacher from the Web site,Hussey said. However, it is against the site’s policy to remove anindividual’s name or any comment unless it is deemed inappropriate by thesite’s administrators.Numerous teachers have threatened to file alawsuit against the Web site, but no one has yet, Hussey said. Earlierthis year, an attorney with the New York State Unified Teachers researchedtaking legal action but found that since the Web site is based outside of theschool and is comprised of opinions it is constitutionally protected, Husseysaid. Nevertheless, school districts are managing to find a way to takeaction against the Web site outside of the courtroom by blocking access toratemyteachers.com from school computers.”It’s not agood lesson in the First Amendment for the students,” Husseysaid.School officials argue that blocking the site is not censoringstudents but rather preventing disruptive behavior from occurring atschool.This week in Virginia, Loudoun County Public School officialsdecided to block the site after they were contacted by The WashingtonPost for a story about ratemyteachers.com, said Wayde Byard, publicinformation officer for the district. After reviewing the site, the districtdecided to block it because it held no academic value, he said.”We don’t want children using the Internet for nonacademicpursuits during school times on school computers,” Byard said.Thedistrict had not received any complaints from teachers about the site prior tothe decision nor have any complaints been received from students who are nowprevented from accessing the site, Byard said. The district also blocks otherWeb sites such as those which contain pornography, he said. Althoughstudents with Internet service at home can access the site after school hours,students without home computers do not have the same opportunity, Husseysaid.Byard said the district cannot help it if every student does nothave access to the Internet outside of school. He added that students have theopportunity to rate their teachers at school in a yearly district survey, but hesaid the results of a teacher’s individual rating are not released to thestudent body.”It’s not a free speech issue for us,”Byard said. ”Students are fine to say anything they want about teachers. We just don’t want students using computers inappropriately during schoolhours.”However, students in other school districts with access toratemyteachers.com are taking full advantage of the site. DhrupadBezboruah, 16, has been the site administrator for West Springfield High Schoolin Virginia for the last two years.”Ratemyteachers.com is avery good Web site for knowing your teachers and preparing you for them,”Bezboruah wrote in an email.Bezboruah said West Springfield studentshave access to the Web site on school computers. In fact, Bezboruah saidteachers spend their free time reading their own ratings on class computersduring school hours.