Monday, April 11, 2011

Brody's Notes... ACLU Warns Virginia School System To Stop Filtering LGBT Equality Rights & Info Websites

By Mark Singer (Washington DC) APR 11 | The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia today sent a strongly worded letter to the Superintendent of Schools, in the suburban Washington D.C. metropolitan area's Prince William County, Virginia, warning that Prince William County Schools must stop censoring websites advocating for the equality rights of LGBTQ persons. [ pdf here ]
According to the letter from ACLU-Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg, the school system uses Blue Coat filter software, which is manually configured, and which currently blocks Prince William County students from access to websites for the GSA Network, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Network, (GLSEN), Day Of Silence, and the It Gets Better Project among others. However, the school system allows Anti-LGBTQ websites through the filter such as People Can Change, the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, (NARTH), Exodus International, and Parents & Friends Of Ex-Gays, which is currently undertaking concerted efforts this week to counter the national Day Of Silence on Friday, by asking students to distribute ex-gay literature to their friends in support of equality for the ex-gay community.
A spokesman for Dr. Steven L. Walts, the superintendent, refused to comment other than to acknowledge that the county uses the filter software to comply with a federal mandate under the Children's Internet Protection Act or CIPA, and that officials would be reviewing the ACLU's claims.
The ACLU's letter warned school administrators that the Blue Coat software as currently configured under the school's acceptable use policy, violates both the U. S. Constitutional First Amendment rights of the students as well as ongoing violations of the federal equal access statues.
A review of the Blue Coat filter software protocols by the ACLU found that the Blue Coat software has an array of categories that can be activated to filter specific content- such as LGBT in the case of the Prince William schools. In fact, the ACLU determined that the software defines the LGBT category as:
"Sites that provide information regarding support, promote, or cater to one's sexual orientation or gender identity including but not limited to LGBT sites. This category does not include sites considered sexually gratuitous in nature that typically fall under the Pornography category."
Glenberg warned school officials that blocking access to websites that express acceptance and promote tolerance yet allowing sites that urge LGBT persons to change their sexual orientation or gender identity through means of reparative therapy was unconstitutional. In a footnote, she stated that "reparative therapy" is a practice denounced as dangerous and harmful to young people by professional groups such as the American Psychological Association and its counter part the American Psychiatric Association as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Pointing out that the school system's policy of blocking affirming positive LGBT sites also violated the Equal Access Act, which meant that students desirous of forming GSA's would be unable to access online resources and support, Glenberg wrote:
"The Equal Access Act requires that PWCPS provide GSA's equal access for all resources- including online resources- that are made available to other non-curricular clubs such as Key Club etc."
She noted that such requirements made sense in light of the national epidermic of suicides by LGBTQ youth as well as the ongoing problems caused by bullying in schools.
Glenberg advised Walts to disable Blue Coat's LGBT filter before April 25 or face a lawsuit from the ACLU.
Local ABCNews affiliate ABC7 News reporter, Amanda Hess, in a related article today wrote:
The ACLU letter "has actually brought some things to our attention," Prince William County Public Schools Communications Director Ken Blackstone told me. Blackstone says that the schools "just received the information" about the ACLU's issues with its filtering system this afternoon and are currently "reviewing" the filtering process.
Blackstone told me that the schools have "employed the filtering software for a number of years," but claimed that deciding which websites to ban is "more an automated process than it is a manual one," because the school is unable to sift through the "thousands of websites established on the Internet every day." Blackstone did confirm that the schools do currently engage the blanket filter of all things LGBT.


Trab said...

Ah, isn't freedom of speech lovely, all the more if you have it, and those you dislike or fail to understand, don't.