Lawsuit targets ‘locator’ chips in Texas student IDs

A Texas student is suing the Northside Independent School District over its SmartID student-tracking technology.

To 15-year-old Andrea Hernandez, the tracking microchip embedded in her student ID card is a “mark of the beast,” sacrilege to her Christian faith—not to mention how it pinpoints her location, even in the school bathroom.

But to her budget-reeling San Antonio school district, those chips carry a potential $1.7 million in classroom funds.

Starting this fall, the fourth-largest school district in Texas is experimenting with “locator” chips in student ID badges on two of its campuses, allowing administrators to track the whereabouts of 4,200 students with GPS-like precision. Hernandez’s refusal to participate isn’t a twist on teenage rebellion, but it has launched a debate over privacy and religion that has forged a rare like-mindedness between typically opposing groups.…Read More

Same-sex classes popular as more public schools split up boys and girls

An estimated 500 public schools across the country now offer some all-boy and all-girl classrooms.

Robin Gilbert didn’t set out to confront gender stereotypes when she split up the boys and girls at her elementary school in rural southwestern Idaho.

But that’s exactly what happened, with her Middleton Heights Elementary now among dozens of public schools nationwide being targeted by the American Civil Liberties Union in a bitter struggle over whether single-sex education should be continued. Under pressure, same-sex classes have been dropped at schools from Missouri to Louisiana.

“It doesn’t frustrate me,” Gilbert said of the criticism, “but it makes the work harder.”…Read More

Companies respond to ACLU’s ‘Don’t Filter Me’ campaign

The ACLU has called for the removal of filters that block content in support of the LGBT community.

Web filtering software companies have started to respond to the American Civil Liberties Union’s call to remove filters that block websites with content geared toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities.

The ACLU has launched a national “Don’t Filter Me” campaign, which seeks to remove censorship of pro-LGBT information on public school computer systems.

As part of its campaign, the organization has sent letters to several schools, asking them to reset their filtering software to stop blocking students’ access to such information, which it says is protected free speech. The ACLU also has contacted leading makers of filtering software, asking them to remove websites with content in support of the LGBT community from their block lists.…Read More

Milwaukee’s voucher program discriminates based on disabilities, ACLU says

Milwaukee’s voucher system, which allows low-income students to attend private schools using tax dollars, discriminates based on disability, according to a complaint filed Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation and Disability Rights Wisconsin, the Huffington Post reports. The complaint seeks an investigation into the system, which the groups allege segregates Milwaukee students, and expresses the desire to end the alleged discrimination, halt efforts to expand the system until the discrimination is fixed and mandate better oversight…

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ACLU demands high schools remove anti-gay filters

The ACLU is urging schools to remove web filters blocking access to legitimate LGBT websites.

Several public high schools on March 28 received letters from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), as well as local ACLU arms from Michigan, Kansas, and western Missouri, demanding that those schools stop using web filters to eliminate access to websites that support the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities.

The ACLU says it learned that the schools were censoring material after teaming with Yale Law School to launch the “Don’t Filter Me” campaign, which asks students to check to see if their schools are blocking content.

“Under the Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA), schools are already required to filter out adult-oriented or sexually explicit materials,” said Joshua Block, an ACLU staff attorney for the LGBT and AIDS Project. “What’s happening at these schools is that in addition to filtering out [those sites], they have an additional filter they’re using and that filter is designed to filter out LGBT content.”…Read More

ACLU says Washington schools can’t seize student phones

The American Civil Liberties Union has objected to a proposed new policy in a Washington state school system that would let school officials seize students’ cell phones if they have probable cause, reports the Seattle Times. Bullying has taken a technological turn, and officials at Oak Harbor School District are looking for ways to control it. Under a proposed new policy, that might mean seizing students’ phones with probable cause. But do schools have that right? The ACLU of Washington says no. “One shouldn’t have to give up the right to privacy to have the other right of public education,” said Brian Alseth, director of the group’s Technology and Liberty project, which aims to protect technological rights and prevent governmental abuse. The organization objected to the proposed policy in a letter to the district superintendent; it has offered proposed changes, too. The School Board discussed the policy at its Aug. 30 meeting. Superintendent Rick Schulte said the district wouldn’t implement it until at least Sept. 13. He said the board will take that time to consider advice such as the ACLU’s. The proposed policy would fulfill a state requirement that bullying policies be updated by 2011, he said. Alseth said his main concern is that school officials would have “unfettered access” to students’ phones. If principals were searching a phone for harassing messages, they might, for example, learn about a pregnancy or a student’s politics—information that should be private. But Schulte said that although the policy would allow district officials to seize cell phones without permission, they’d avoid doing so…

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Groups sue Mass. over newly expanded obscenity law

A coalition of booksellers and internet content providers filed a federal lawsuit on July 13, challenging an expansion of Massachusetts’ obscenity law to include electronic communications that might be harmful to minors, reports the Associated Press. Supporters say the new law, which went into effect July 13, closes a loophole that led the state’s highest court to overturn the conviction of a Beverly man accused of sending sexually explicit instant messages to someone he believed was a 13-year-old girl. The Supreme Judicial Court, ruling in a case in February, found that the state’s obscenity law didn’t apply to instant messages. The new law, passed quickly by the state Legislature after the ruling, added instant messages, text messages, eMail, and other electronic communications to the old law. But the changes amount to “a broad censorship law that imposes severe content-based restrictions” on the dissemination of constitutionally protected speech, the lawsuit argues. The plaintiffs include the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Association of American Publishers, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and other groups. They argue that the expanded law effectively bans from the internet anything that might be considered “harmful to minors,” including material that adults have a First Amendment right to view, including information about contraception, pregnancy, sexual health, literature, and art…

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U.S. court weighs school discipline for lewd web posts

Courts have issued mixed rulings on whether students can be punished for off-campus internet speech.
Courts have issued mixed rulings on whether students can be punished for off-campus internet speech.

A U.S. appeals court in Philadelphia heard arguments June 3 over whether school officials can discipline students for making lewd, harassing, or juvenile internet postings from off-campus computers, in a pair of cases that could help define the boundaries between students’ free-speech rights and the rights of administrators to punish students for digital indiscretions that occur outside of school.

Two students from two different Pennsylvania school districts are fighting suspensions they received for posting derisive profiles of their principals on MySpace from home computers. The American Civil Liberties Union argued that school officials infringe on students’ free-speech rights when they reach beyond school grounds in such cases to impose discipline.

“While children are in school, they are under the custody and tutelage of the school,” ACLU lawyer Witold Walczak argued in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “Once they leave the schoolhouse gate, you’ve got parents that come into play.”…Read More