It seems unlikely that there is a school librarian out there who has not encountered a problem with--or railed against--the presence of CIPA-mandated filters on school computers. My own career so far has allowed me to experience a full range of experiences with school computers, from a filterless library to an overfiltering situation so egregious that my journey to have it resolved culminated in suing the school district that employs me—Knox County, Tennessee. I just discovered, in fact, that a Google search for “internet filtering in schools” lists the ACLU litigation for which I was a plaintiff, Franks v. Metropolitan Board of Public Education, as its second hit.
This journey toward resolution was a long one that began many months before I thought it would ever be necessary to engage the services of civil rights attorneys. I first became aware of websites that seemed inappropriately blocked by our filtering system, Education Networks of America (ENA), in the course of helping students in the library of Fulton High School with persuasive essays on contemporary topics. This discovery was underscored by my additional role as the faculty sponsor of Fulton High’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), since the blocked sites that initially concerned me were those of the Human Rights Campaign (www.hrc.org) and the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (www.glsen.org). Of note is the fact that GLSEN is an organization that is fully endorsed by the National Education Association; their site has been listed in NEA Today magazine as a resource for promoting safe schools (citation needed?).
Since I couldn’t imagine that these sites, upon review, would continue to be blocked (yes, I know; the more stories of censorship I hear the more I realize how naïve I was back in August of 2007!), I submitted my unblock request to ENA via the form that is linked on the “Blocked Website” page result. I received a prompt email response back from ENA stating, “We cannot unblock the websites referenced…as the site categorization indicates it references/provides access to Sexuality/Alternative Lifestyles”.
In fact, I later discovered that the HRC and GLSEN websites did not at all meet the criteria for ENAs description of the “Sexuality/Alternative Lifestyles” category; what I found in reviewing that list of blocked categories was one called LGBT, defined as “Sites that provide information regarding, support, promote, or cater to one’s sexual orientation or gender identity including but not limited to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender sites. This category does not include sites that are sexually gratuitous in nature which would typically fall under the Pornography category”.
The biggest challenge in trying to acquire a “fix” for this issue, even when it became clear that, as noted above, the censorship was deliberately focused on the LGBT category of information (not a “glitch” as it was called by the Superintendant and stated in the media once the ACLU...