The letter argues that Governor Mifflin School District in Berks County is violating students’ First Amendment rights with its “sexuality” filter.
The block was reported to ACLU by Governor Mifflin Senior High School junior Maison Fioravante, who was attempting to research LGBT issues for a school project.
She found that she could not access sites that offered pro-LGBT information and resources, yet sites that condemned homosexuality were accessible.
“It’s not only important for support for LGBT students and those questioning their sexual identities to be able to access these sites, but also for students who simply want information for school projects,” Fioravante said in a statement. “It’s wrong for my school to determine that this kind of information is too sensitive for the student body.”
Among the sites Fioravante was prevented from visiting were the organizational sites of Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, Safe Schools Coalition, Freedom to Marry, the Equality Federation and Lambda Legal.
“Being able to access information on the Internet at the school library is not only critical for academic purposes, it can also be a lifeline for LGBT students in crisis who don’t feel safe seeking support on their home computers,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Blocking these sites not only violates the First Amendment, but it does a disservice to students trying to learn about themselves and the world around them.”
Fioravante circulated a petition against the filter that has since generated more than 3,000 signatures.
The district also employs a filter against “intolerant” sites, which blocks political-advocacy pages that seemingly offer intolerant viewpoints. Among the blocked sites are those of the National Organization for Marriage and the Family Research Council, staunch opponents of the LGBT community.
“Regardless of whether you support or oppose legal protections for LGBT people, these sorts of viewpoint-based filters puts everyone’s First Amendment rights at risk,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project. “If you give school officials the power to censor viewpoints they don’t like, they may use that power to block your own viewpoint too.”
The ACLU has asked the district to respond by March 14 with information on how it will address the issue.