Mo. school agrees to unblock gay websites

by
March 30, 2012

By Cheryl Wetzstein-The Washington Times

A Missouri school district has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Unionover student access to pro-gay websites.

The Camdenton R-III School District in central Missouri will ensure that nonsexual websites on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues will be put on a customized “whitelist,” meaning students can access them, according to a consent judgment that is due to be filed in federal court.

The school district also agreed to have its website monitored for 18 months and pay $125,000 in legal costs.

“We are very happy about the settlement, and we’re delighted that students in Camdenton now will be able to have viewpoint-neutral access to educational websites about LGBT issues,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the LGBT Project at the American Civil Liberties Union(ACLU).

As a result of this lawsuit, he said, Camdenton’s software-filtering partner, URLBlacklist.com, has “completely overhauled” its system “to stop viewpoint-based censorship of LGBT websites.”

“This filter used to block something like 8,000 websites, and after this overhaul, it only blocks a couple hundred,” Mr. Block said. “The fact that URLBlacklist has made these changes is a complete repudiation of the school district’s position that they were operating their filtering system in a reasonable manner.”

The school district “voted to settle the case in order to put the focus in the district back on providing the highest level of education possible to its students,” said Betsey A. Helfrich, an attorney with Mickes Goldman O’Toole, the law firm that defended the school district against the ACLU, which brought the suit on behalf of several pro-gay organizations.

“Throughout this litigation, the intent of the district was to protect students from disablement of the district’s ‘sexuality’ Internet filter, yet, while at the same time, allowing its students to access information. The district succeeded in this endeavor and is glad that this case has been resolved,” she said.

The lawsuit stemmed from the ACLU’s “Don’t Filter Me” campaign, which sent letters to dozens of school districts warning them that their web-filtering systems were illegally blocking pro-gay websites.

To read more, visit: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/mar/29/school-agrees-unblock-gay-websites/

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