Rochester School Board candidates accuse the school district of censorship, district responds

RPS Communications Director Mamisoa Knutson said the school district has submitted reports to its internet security vendor, Netskope, to fix the issue.

Rochester School Board candidate John Whelan speaks during a debate at the Rochester Public Library on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022.
Jordan Shearer / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — A group of four candidates running for the Rochester School Board has accused the school district of censorship due to the fact that their campaign website was unable to be accessed through the district's internet.

John Whelan, one of the four candidates, raised the issue during his opening statement for a debate Wednesday at the Rochester Public Library. The other candidates in the bloc include Elena Niehoff, Rae Parker and Kim Rishavy.

In 2021, the combined compensation and benefits of the cabinet members amounted to $1,811,939. That's since been reduced by more than 24%.

"This is cancellation; this is cancel culture," Whelan said. "And for voters who work in the school district, and students who are old enough to vote, I think it could fall into the category of voter suppression."

Whelan said a teacher who wanted to remain anonymous brought the issue to his attention. The teacher, he said, indicated that their students were unable to access the candidates' website on their school-owned devices.

RPS Communications Director Mamisoa Knutson said the school district has submitted reports to its internet security vendor, Netskope, to fix the issue. She said the candidates' website has been "incorrectly flagged on some RPS devices" as a parked domain.


"In that case, users will see the error message that some are referring to as RPS blocking the website from our network," Knutson said via email. "We are not intentionally blocking this website."

According to the Google Ads Help Center, a parked domain is one that is "in development or waiting for a new owner."

Whelan later told the Post Bulletin that the other candidates' websites were able to be accessed from the district's network.

Whelan provided a screenshot of an attempt to access the bloc's website. The screenshot showed a message that said "Non-compliant action: The current operation is blocked by your IT administrator."

Knutson said the district is unable to tell when the issue will be fixed.

"RPS can't control how Netskope categorizes things, but we did report this to Netskope for investigation to see if they will remove it from the parked domain status," Knutson said. "When and if it gets removed by Netskope is completely out of our control."

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or
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