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Prince William County Public Schools censor 'It Gets Better'

April 11, 2011 - 05:00 PM
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Censored: (Photo: Associated Press)

On Prince William County Public Schools computers, students can't get to It Gets Better. Today, the ACLU of Virginia sent a strongly-worded letter [PDF] urging Prince William County Public Schools to stop censoring LGBT websites on school computers. PWCPS has outfitted its computers with a Blue Coat Systems web filtering mechanism that allows administrators to choose from dozens of categories of websites to block from student view–among them "illegal drugs," "pornography," and "LGBT." The schools currently elect to filter all gay, lesbian, and transgender-related content. 

According to the ACLU, barred websites under the system's "LGBT" filter include those for educational organization The Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network, school diversity campaign the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, anti-bullying initiative Day of Silence, and anti-suicide initiative the It Gets Better Project.

Meanwhile, because Prince William County Public Schools does not elect to bar "political/activist groups," "health," or "reference," it currently allows students to access anti-LGBT websites like People Can Change, the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, and Exodus International.

"This viewpoint discrimination violates your students' First Amendment rights,"Rebecca K. Glenberg of the ACLU of Virginia and Joshua Block of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation wrote in a letter to schools Superintendent Steven Walts. The ACLU has advised Walts to disable Blue Coat's LGBT filter before April 25 or face a lawsuit from the groups.

The ACLU letter "has actually brought some things to our attention," Prince William County Public Schools Communications Director Ken Blackstone told me. Blackstone says that the schools "just received the information" about the ACLU's issues with its filtering system this afternoon and are currently "reviewing" the filtering process.

Blackstone told me that the schools have "employed the filtering software for a number of years," but claimed that deciding which websites to ban is "more an automated process than it is a manual one," because the school is unable to sift through the "thousands of websites established on the Internet every day." Blackstone did confirm that the schools do currently engage the blanket filter of all things LGBT.

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