US: School District relaxes policy blocking student access to LGBT information websites

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A change in policy by the Clark County School District, which allows students access to information websites on LGBT issues, has been welcomed by civil rights groups.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nevada, first approached the Clark County School District about the issue in April 2012, and was notified of the change on 11 February.

Staci Pratt, legal director for the ACLU of Nevada, said: “Initially, they were not that receptive,” referring to victories in other states by the group.

“Look, it’s a winning case; we have the Constitution on our side. But you’d be surprised. It took a while,” she continued. 

A spokeswoman for the School District Amanda Fulkerson, said officials “considered input” from the ACLU when updating the filtering software.

She cited their need to comply with Nevada’s law protecting trans people from discrimination, and said the district was “working hard to find the right balance between access to educational resources and retaining a level of filter that guardians of our students expect.”

According to Pratt, the district was in clear violation of the Constitution by discriminating. The internet filter had blocked student access to sites that supports or promotes “one’s sexual orientation or gender identity”, according to the filter parameters of Blue Coat software in place.

The software also blocked sites covering a “wide range of non-traditional and/or non-religious spiritual, existential, experimental, and philosophical belief systems” despite no blocks appearing on mainstream and traditional religious views, such as “churches, synagogues, or other houses of worship.”

“Although the First Amendment does not require the School District to provide students with Internet access, once a school district does so, it may not selectively censor access to websites based on particular viewpoints,” Ms Pratt said. “When students have access to different ideas and viewpoints, they are better prepared for active participation in society.”

School computers in the district also block Craigslist, YouTube, eBay and Gmail, reports LVRJ.

The ACLU is running a national campaign called Don’t Filter Me, which aims to remove the special category for websites on filtering software for LGBT sites, even though they might not be sexually explicit.