Clark County schools relax website restrictions

A policy change championed by the American Civil Liberties Union means that Clark County public school computers no longer will block students from informational websites on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.

The ACLU of Nevada first approached the Clark County School District about the issue in April and received word of the change Monday, according to Staci Pratt, legal director for the ACLU of Nevada.

“Initially, they were not that receptive,” said Pratt, adding the organization made it clear to the district that the ACLU has won several cases on the same matter in other states. “Look, it’s a winning case; we have the Constitution on our side. But you’d be surprised. It took awhile.”

District spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson said officials “considered input” from the ACLU when updating its filtering software with the goal of complying with Nevada law protecting transgender people. The 2011 law prohibits discrimination against transgender individuals in the workplace, housing and public accommodations.

Pratt said the district was clearly violating the Constitution by discriminating against a viewpoint. The district’s Internet filter blocked student access to sites that provide information that supports or promotes “one’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” according to the filter parameters of Blue Coat software used by the district.

The filter also prevented student access to educational sites covering a “wide range of non-traditional and/or non-religious spiritual, existential, experimental, and philosophical belief systems” though the district allowed access to websites representing mainstream and traditional religious views, as well as information on “churches, synagogues, or other houses of worship,” according to the filter settings.

“Although the First Amendment does not require the School District to provide students with Internet access, once a school district does so, it may not selectively censor access to websites based on particular viewpoints,” Pratt said. “When students have access to different ideas and viewpoints, they are better prepared for active participation in society.”

The Clark County School Board tends to be conservative in what it allows students to see and hear. It has an abstinence-based sex education policy, which emphasizes that abstinence is the only 100 percent effective method for avoiding sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancy but does cover contraception.

Nevada has the third-highest teen pregnancy rate in the country with 38.6 out of 1,000 teenage girls becoming pregnant in 2010, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. About 70 percent of Nevada teens attend district schools.

The district also prohibits showing students movies that are rated R at any grade level “under any circumstances,” meaning history teachers can’t convey the atrocities of the Holocaust through “Schindler’s List” or the Vietnam War through “Platoon.” Clips of PG-13 films are also prohibited.

Movies rated PG may be shown to students in grades seven through 12 but only after securing written parental permission.

As for Internet filters, Fulkerson said the district is “working hard to find the right balance between access to educational resources and retaining a level of filter that guardians of our students expect.”

School computers also block Craigslist, YouTube, eBay and email sites like Gmail.

The ACLU isn’t just focusing on the nation’s fifth-largest school district but is on a nationwide Don’t Filter Me campaign. The reason is that most filtering software includes a special category for websites that contain information about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues and organizations, though the websites are not sexually explicit.

Pratt said ACLU of Nevada will start reviewing other school districts in the state.

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279.


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