ACLU Finds Three More Texas School Districts Unconstitutionally Censoring LGBT Content

May 10, 2011 Print This Post

ACLU of Texas Has Challenged Illegal Filtering At A Total Of Five School Districts So Far As Part Of “Don’t Filter Me” Initiative

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Robyn Shepherd, (212) 519-7829 or 549-2666; media@aclu.org
Dotty Griffith, (512) 923-1909; dgriffith@aclutx.org

AUSTIN – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Texas sent letters today to the Hurst-Euless-Bedford, Northwest, and Aldine independent school districts demanding that the schools cease viewpoint-based censorship of web content geared toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities.  To date, the organization has sent demand letters to a total of five Texas school districts as part of the organization’s national “Don’t Filter Me” initiative, which seeks to combat illegal censorship of pro-LGBT information on public school computer systems.

The campaign asked students to check to see if web content geared toward LGBT communities – a frequent target of censorship in schools – is blocked by their schools’ web browsers, and then report instances of censorship to the ACLU LGBT Project.

“This is a widespread problem that schools have a responsibility to address,” said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director of the ACLU of Texas. “All schools should ensure that their web filters are configured to provide students with viewpoint-neutral access to the Internet.”

“Blocking access to information will not prepare students for real life in the 21st century,” said Megan McEntire, Visual Arts Department Chair at Carver Magnet High School of Aldine ISD. “For many of the students here, the only access to the Internet that they have is through school. It is wrong of the school district to deprive students of their right to vital information and create an unwelcoming environment for LGBT students.”

Although each of the Texas school districts contacted by the ACLU uses different filtering software, all of the school districts have inappropriately activated a specific filter to target LGBT content.

  • Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD, near Fort Worth, has enabled the “Lifestyle” filter on software provided by M86
  • Northwest, also in North Texas, has enabled the “Homosexuality” filter on software provided by Fortiguard
  • Aldine, near Houston, has enabled the “LGBT” filter on software provided by Blue Coat

These anti-LGBT filters can be removed without impairing the schools’ ability to block pornographic or sexually explicit content as required by federal law. 

“We are seeing a pattern across the country in which school districts have enabled anti-LGBT filters without understanding how they work,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project. “Software companies need to make schools understand that these products are programmed specifically to target LGBT-related content that would not otherwise be blocked as inappropriate, and that these types of filters are not required by law. There is no legitimate reason why any public school should be using an anti-LGBT filter.”

When used by a public school, programs that block all LGBT content violate First Amendment rights to free speech, as well as the Equal Access Act, which requires equal access to school resources for all extracurricular clubs. This means that gay-straight alliances and LGBT support groups must have the same access to national organizational websites that help them to function, just as other groups such as the Key Club and the chess club are able to access their national websites. By blocking access to LGBT websites, schools deny helpful information to gay-straight alliances and other support groups that could be vital for troubled LGBT youth who either don’t have access to the Internet at home or do not feel safe accessing such information on their home computers.

A video showing students how to test whether or not their school is illegally filtering content and providing instructions for reporting censorship can be seen here: www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/dont-filter-me

Students who want to report unconstitutional web filtering at their schools can fill out a form at: action.aclu.org/dontfilterme 

More information on the ACLU’s work on LGBT school issues can be found here: www.aclu.org/safeschools

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