The American Civil Liberties Union announced today that they have settled out of court with two Tennessee school districts sued on behalf of local students for blocking classroom access to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Web sites.
The lawsuit alleged that Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and Knox County Schools violated the rights of three students by denying them access to LGBT sites.
The ACLU claimed that the filtering software used by the districts blocks access to Web sites specializing in LGBT policy issues, including the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network and Human Rights Campaign. In contrast, the suit notes, students are able to access Web sites that condemn homosexuality or advocate “reparative therapy” programs that attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation.
Filtering Internet access at schools is a common practice, particularly within districts that receive federal Internet access subsidies known as the E-Rate program. The federal law known as the Children’s Internet Protect Act requires schools receiving such funding to utilize a “technology protection measure” to prevent students from accessing obscene or harmful materials, but Crump argued that the law doesn’t apply in this particular case. “Schools that receive E-Rate funding are only required to filter obscenity, child pornography, and certain other sexually explicit materials,” she said. “The Tennessee schools are blocking access to the sites of civil rights organizations that advocate for the fair treatment of LGBT persons. Federal law does not require the blocking of this valuable information.”
As part of the settlement, the school districts agreed to unblock the LGBT Web sites. If the districts re-block the sites at any time, the ACLU says it will bring the case back to court.
“We are pleased that a favorable agreement has been reached with the school departments without the need for further litigation. The schools rightly realized that students should be able to access the important information available on the educational Web sites that were being blocked,” said Catherine Crump, the ACLU’s lead attorney on the case. “This is an important step towards eliminating unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.”