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School district, ACLU reach settlement in filtering lawsuit

Missouri district agrees to stop blocking sites that voice support for LGBT community

A Missouri school district has agreed to remove certain filters and submit to compliance monitoring.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said on March 28 that it has settled a lawsuit with a central Missouri school district whose internet filtering software was blocking access to nonsexual websites about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues.

The ACLU said the Camdenton R-III School District has agreed to stop blocking the sites, submit to monitoring for 18 months to confirm compliance, and pay $125,000 in legal fees and costs. Joshua Block, the staff attorney for the ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & AIDS Project, said the Camdenton school board has approved the consent agreement that was filed with the court on March 28, where it is awaiting a judge’s signature.

As part of a national campaign, the ACLU sued the district last summer in federal court in Jefferson City on behalf of organizations whose websites had been blocked. The blocked organizations include the Matthew Shepard Foundation and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays National, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.

Block said no one wants to expose school children to sexually explicit content. He said the problem was that the Camdenton district used internet filtering software to block purely educational sites.

“Our allegations were never that the school from Day One put this system in place with the premeditated desire to discriminate,” Block said. “But once the censorship was brought to their attention, we allege that they did refuse to fix it, because they didn’t want to be … accused of making gay websites more available.”

The district’s attorney, Thomas Mickes, said he thought the district eventually would have prevailed in its legal fight, but that continuing to fight the lawsuit would cost “a ton of money.”

“I think public education should operate in what is in the best interest of children and not to cave into demands to avoid lawsuits when what you are doing is in the best interest of kids,” Mickes said. “I think the Camdenton school district showed a great deal of courage—the school board, the administration.”

The district’s case took a hit last month when U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey issued a preliminary injunction, barring the district from using internet filtering software to restrict access to educational LGBT sites.

Central to the case was the district’s use of URLBlacklist.com to categorize websites in combination with internet filtering software the district customized. URLBlacklist.com took steps last month to re-categorize sites, but before the changes took effect it had been placing many sites expressing a positive view toward LGBT individuals into its “sexuality” category, which Camdenton blocks. Laughrey noted that sites expressing a negative view toward LGBT individuals fell into the “religion” category, which Camdenton does not block.

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