ACLU tells 3 more school districts — including 2 in N. Texas — to stop blocking LGBT web content

The ACLU of Texas reports that it has sent letters to three more school districts — including two in North Texas — demanding that they stop illegally blocking access to LGBT websites on district computers.

The letters were Tuesday to the Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD; the Northwest ISD, which covers parts of Northern Tarrant, Southwestern Denton and Southeastern Wise counties; and the Aldine ISD near Houston. This brings to five the total number of school districts in Texas that have received letters as part of the ACLU’s “Don’t Filter Me” initiative.

Earlier this month, the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD in Fort Worth and the Goose Creek School District in Baytown agreed to stop blocking LGBT content in response to demand letters from the ACLU. The organization says anti-LGBT filtering programs violate the First Amendment and the federal Equal Access Act.

“We are seeing a pattern across the country in which school districts have enabled anti-LGBT filters without understanding how they work,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project. “Software companies need to make schools understand that these products are programmed specifically to target LGBT-related content that would not otherwise be blocked as inappropriate, and that these types of filters are not required by law. There is no legitimate reason why any public school should be using an anti-LGBT filter.”

Watch the above video to determine whether your district is illegally filtering LGBT content. To report illegal filtering, go here.

—  John Wright

ACLU accuses Texas’ Goose Creek school district of building a cyber-dam to block LGBT content

A while back we told you about the American Civil Liberties Union’s effort to get school districts in Texas and several other states to stop illegally filtering LGBT content on the Web. And we’d like to think that maybe, just maybe, a student in Baytown’s Goose Creek school district saw our post and contacted the ACLU.

Either way, the Goose Creek district now stands accused of maintaining a cyber-dam to shield its little goslings from the gay stuff. According to MyFox Houston, district officials say they received a public information request from the ACLU Foundation of Texas on April 7 about their web filtering practices. But you’ll never guess the Google search that led to the ACLU’s investigation:

ACLU’s outcry stems from a Goose Creek Memorial High student’s research for a news story about Chik-Fil-A donating to anti-gay organizations. The senior’s search hit a bump when several sites appearing on Google News were blocked by the district.

The ACLU says the district is violating free speech rights as well as the Equal Access Act. By failing to remain “viewpoint neutral,” the ACLU claims the district is denying helpful support information for gay or transgendered students.

—  John Wright

Facebook backs Texas anti-bullying bill

The Star-Telegram reports that Facebook has endorsed an anti-bullying measure filed by State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin. The bill would require school districts to provide training for employees and educate students and parents about bullying and cyberbullying. It would also require school officials to immediately notify parents about incidents of bullying, and grant districts the authority to transfer bullies and victims:

“Facebook supports the bill and we are encouraged to see the Texas legislature take steps to keep our schools places where students can feel safe,” Corey Owens, a lobbyist for Facebook, wrote in a letter to Strama. “As a company with a significant presence in Texas – including employees who send their children to Texas public schools – we are committed to building an online platform that is safe for users of all ages.”

Strama’s bill, HB 224, would require school districts in Texas to track the number of incidents of bullying based on a number of factors, including sexual orientation. However, Strama’s bill doesn’t include gender identity/expression, meaning it’s unlikely to receive the backing of Equality Texas, at least in its current form.

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, has filed a bill that’s nearly identical to Strama’s in the Senate. But unlike Strama’s, Davis’ SB 245 does include gender identity/expression in the tracking requirement. Davis’ bill was inspired by and has the backing of Joel Burns, who replaced Davis on the Fort Worth City Council and has since become famous for his “It Gets Better” speech:

“I have focused the message on the responsibility of adults to end bullying by creating a culture of respect,” Burns said. “The reporting tools in Sen. Davis’ bill will give us the data we need to prioritize resources and understand how we can do better educating and supporting children to learn and be a success.”

The Star-Telegram explains the difference between the two bills as follows:

Strama’s and Davis’ bills differ in one area drawing the attention of some gay rights activists. Both bills require districts to annually report how many bullying incidents they faced, including how many incidents were based on race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. Davis said she included “gender identity and expression” to her list of categories to make sure districts looked at bullying situations that arose due to “a perception of someone’s sexuality rather than the reality.” Strama said that phrase might be added to his bill as well.

Davis is correct in the sense that “gender identity/expression” includes some students who are perceived to be gay or lesbian. But these students are already covered because the bill clearly states, “actual or perceived sexual orientation.” The real difference between the bills — and the Star-Telegram should know this — is that Davis’ bill includes transgender students, whereas Strama’s bill does not.



—  John Wright