Rhode Island Public Schools

ACLU filtering study reveals widespread Internet censorship

Over the past two decades, the Internet has become a crucial tool in public education, opening schoolchildren to the broader world. Yet concerns about sex, violence, and other inappropriate content has led many school districts to impose draconian restrictions limiting kids' access to even the most innocuous material.

The ACLU of Rhode Island set out to document online censorship in the schools — and what it found should chill all of us. It turns out that filtering software used in the Rhode Island Public Schools has blocked students from accessing websites such as PBS Kids, National Stop Bullying Day, a video clip of The Nutcracker, and information about global warming. Also blocked were educational resources for gay and lesbian teens.

There is no reason to believe that Internet censorship is worse in Rhode Island than it is in other states. Under the federal Children's Internet Protection Act, all schools and libraries that receive federal funding must filter "obscene" content, child pornography, and material that's considered "harmful to minors" — the last being a dangerously fuzzy standard. The ACLU study, by policy associate Hillary Davis, documents problems in Rhode Island but includes findings and recommendations that should be applied nationally.

"In trying to prevent students from visiting 'inappropriate' websites, school officials have instead taken advantage of technology to implement an unjustifiable scheme of censorship," according to Davis's report. "This must change, for it is only through the free exchange of ideas that students can truly experience a full education."

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  Topics: News Features , Ed Davis, William O'Brien, Maine Department of Transportation,  More more >
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