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ACLU still awaits GCPS response on Internet filter

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

SUWANEE -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia extended a deadline for Gwinnett County Public Schools to respond to a complaint about an Internet filter that blocks some websites about sexual orientation.

The revised deadline was the close of business Monday, but the civil rights organization had not heard from the school system as of Monday afternoon, Legal Director Chara Fisher Jackson said.

"We're hopeful that we'll get a response or at least hear that they are investigating," Jackson said.

Gwinnett County Public Schools spokesman Sloan Roach said Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks ordered a review after receiving the ACLU complaint last month. She did not when the school system planned to respond to the organization's letter that stated that the use of a filter that blocks lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-related material violates students' rights.

"We're looking into their complaint as well as the filters that we use," Roach said Monday.

The ACLU letter, signed by Jackson, said the use of the LGBT filter violates both the First Amendment and the Equal Access Act. According to the filter description from the software company used by the school system, the LGBT category is designed to block sites that would not be otherwise blocked as sexually explicit or pornographic, Jackson wrote.

The ACLU sent a letter last week to the software company, Blue Coat Solutions, imploring them to discontinue the LGBT filter.

"Disturbingly, the 'LGBT' filter appears to be designed specifically to target websites for student gay-straight alliances ('GSAs')," the ACLU letter to Blue Coat states. "The websites for GSA Network and the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network ('GLSEN') are identified on your website as examples of the type of content the 'LGBT' filter is designed to target.

"Even worse, the 'LGBT' filter only blocks websites that provide support for LGBT students or express tolerance for LGBT people -- not websites that condemn homosexuality or urge LGBT persons to change their sexual orientation or gender identity through so-called 'reparative therapy.'"

By including the LGBT filter, the ACLU argued, Blue Coat is exposing its public school clients to legal liability for violating the First Amendment and the Equal Access Act.

The school system said it filters websites to adhere to guidelines outlined in the Children's Internet Protection Act. The ACLU said allowing access to the sites blocked by the LGBT filter would not violate the federal law.

In its letter, the ACLU of Georgia told the school system that continued censorship could lead to legal liability.

As for what will happen next, Jackson said, "We'll determine that when we see what happens (by today)."