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Natick students’ attempts to access Facebook leads to trouble on school computers

Natick schools have blocked students from using Facebook, pornography, and gambling sites on their school-issued computers, so some of the students downloaded an application to circumvent the filters.

And then the trouble started.

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The school system tried to uninstall the students’ application and wound up rendering thousands of computers useless earlier this month. Natick High School’s desktop computers and laptops were restored within three days, but other computers in the district’s middle and elementary schools took nearly two weeks to fix.

Dennis Roche, director of technology for Natick Public Schools, said that the school system’s technology staff used the Casper Suite program to ­delete an application called Tor, which some students had downloaded in order to reach Facebook and other websites blocked by the school’s filters. A bug accidentally deleted not ­only Tor, but also any running program on the computers, he said.

“It really threw us for a loop when we saw it forcing all these machines to shut down,” Roche said. “It was not a very good day, to say the least.”

The recovery was complex.

“Since every student could be doing something different, the bug removed different parts for everybody,” he said. “It made the recovery process very difficult.”

Casper Suite employees flew in from Minnesota to assist Natick officials, he said.

Roche said it was impossible to know which websites students visited while using Tor, since going around the filters also circumvented the school’s ability to see which sites students used.

However, once the computers were restored and returned to students, at least 100 students tried to reinstall Tor, leading the district to e-mail parents about the problem.

School officials implored parents to keep an eye on their child’s computers, and to make sure they abide by the policies outlined in the student handbook.

“Students who choose to disregard these regulations will be subject to disciplinary consequences,” the e-mail said.

Roche said no additional funds from the district were needed to fix the problem.

“The key thing was just lost time,” he said. “Students had a lot of lost time, and the technology team had a lot of lost time trying to get everything back up and running as quickly as possible.”

Natick began its $2.27 million initiative to provide all high schoolers and eighth graders with a MacBook. The program was implemented in fall 2012, as the new $78.5 million Natick High School building was completed.

The district also received ­national attention in September from Project RED, a national research group that studies effects of technology in school systems, for implementing the one-to-one laptop program.

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com.

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