Education

ACLU Targets Schools’ Web-Filtering on Gay, Lesbian Issues

By Catherine Gewertz — March 29, 2011 2 min read

The American Civil Liberties Union is firing off letters to schools, warning that it is illegal to block students’ access to websites that advocate gay and lesbian rights while allowing access to sites that advocate changing a gay person’s sexual orientation.

This week, the civil-rights group sent letters to the superintendents of the Rochester Community school district in Michigan and the North Kansas City district in Missouri, warning that their web-filtering procedures violate federal law.

It took issue with policies that block sites such as the national Gay-Straight Alliance Network, which connects such student alliances to one another, and Day of Silence, which organizes a national day of protest against anti-gay harassment, while allowing access to sites operated by People Can Change and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays, which advocate changing gay people’s sexual orientation.

The letters are part of a “Don’t Filter Me” campaign the ACLU launched last month with Yale Law School. It asked students to check to see whether Internet content pertaining to lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender issues was blocked on their schools’ computers.

The ACLU was at it even before the formal launch of the campaign, with letters to schools in Maryland and in Tennessee, among other places.

In an email to the ACLU on Monday, Rochester Superintendent David Pruneau said that his district’s web-filtering software works by screening out “broad categories” of sites, rather than individual sites. But, having been alerted to the problem, the district has begun reviewing the filtering rules in the software, Mr. Pruneau said.

The North Kansas City district issued a statement saying there is “no reason” for the websites cited in the ACLU letter to be blocked. The district doesn’t block website access on the basis of gay-related content and has a policy ensuring fair treatment of all students, regardless of sexual orientation, it said.

District officials are looking into the possibility that their filtering software created a “technical problem,” since a similar issue arose recently with the website that connects students to information about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for college, North Kansas City district officials said.

Additionally, the district’s statement said, its policies allow students to request that websites be unblocked, and it honors that policy “daily.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.

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