Monday, March 19, 2012

Camdenton School Board, ACLU reach agreement on gay websites lawsuit

Camdenton school officials and lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union have reached an agreement on a lawsuit filed after the blocking filters used by the school district blocked all gay websites.

In a status update filed today in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, no details were offered on the nature of the agreement. Those will be provided after it is officially approved by the school board and by the ACLU's clients, according to the notice.

As noted in the Feb. 15 Turner Report:

Thanks to a ruling by a federal judge today, the school district has 30 days to eliminate an internet filtering system that allowed students access to explicit sexual sites…but effectively blocked nearly every website that offered a positive viewpoint of gays and lesbians.
 The order noted that the websites that were positive about gays were blocked for “sexuality,” but religious sites that were critical of homosexuality were allowed and were categorized as “religious.” This did not apply, however, to religious sites that did not condemn gays. Those sites were blocked because of “sexuality.”
 In her order granting the temporary injunction, Judge Nanette Laughrey wrote, “The board has used its power to perform an act clearly indicating that the ideas contained in the files are unacceptable and should not be discussed or considered. This message is not lost on students and teachers and its chilling effect is obvious.”
 The lawsuit was filed last August by the American Civil Liberties Union representing a student referred to as “Jane Doe” in court files, plus four organizations whose websites were blocked by URL Blocklist, the filtering service used by the school district, Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Dignity USA, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and Campus Pride, Inc.
 As hard as it is to believe in these days when much attention is being paid to the high rate of suicides among gay teens, Judge Laughrey’s order indicates that the system set up by the school, intentionally or not, served to stigmatize gay students.
 The school has a system in place for students and teachers to “anonymously” request that a site be unblocked. However, Judge Laughrey said it was obvious from the system that school officials would have access to the names of those who made the requests. Even if they were not able to know who it was, students’ fears that they might would serve as enough of a deterrent. Judge Laughrey noted that “Jane Doe” had testified she was “afraid” to request to have a site unblocked because “it would draw attention to her and make her the subject of further taunting.”
 The judge also noted comments from board member John Beckett who indicated he did not want students to have access to such sites because it would “be saying it is okay to be gay.”
 The board noted that the system used by the school district did little to stop a random sampling of 500 sexually explicit websites.

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