On the website of Connecticut's Regional School District 14 is a commendable, but somewhat out-of-context, commitment to relative Internet freedom for public school students, dated June 20.
Regional School District 14 takes the position that while it is obviously critical to block specific categories of websites as required by law (e.g., pornography, etc.), the blocking of otherwise appropriate websites, regardless of political or religious viewpoints, is WRONG.
The statement goes on to note that "On Region 14's computers, some websites were blocked, while others were not," and it was all a big technical error.
A letter dated the previous day gives us a little of the awkward background in this story.
In recent weeks, a student conducting research on the district's network came upon a pattern of information access through the district's content filtering service…
the district has pressed Dell SonicWall for more information about how websites are assigned to categories and why there are apparent inconsistencies, as discovered by the student, in classifications particularly along conservative and liberal lines. Many of the liberal sites accessible to the student fell into the "not rated" category, which was unblocked while many of the conservative sites were in the "political/advocacy group" which is accessible to teachers but not to students. The district is trying to determine the reason for the inconsistency and if the bias is pervasive enough to justify switching to another content filtering provider.
Uh huh. As it turns out, high school student Andrew Lampart was assigned to do a report on gun control, and quickly discovered that the school Internet connection allowed him access to only one side of the debate. Then he found that the school permitted access to only one side of many debates—permitting access to gun control groups and liberal organizations, but not their counterparts. Whoops.
On Facebook, he wrote:
Earlier in the semester, our law class was promised to hold a debate closer to the end of the year on the issue of gun control. To prepare, I decided to do some research and gather resources during study hall. However, I immediately found it difficult to find resources that were opposed to stricter gun-control as most of these websites were blocked by the firewall. Most of these websites were blocked under the category of "Political/Advocacy Groups." Out of curiousity, I decided to perform a brief investigation and search to see what other websites were blocked under this listing. What I discovered was appalling.
As you can see from the list that I have provided you, the firewall at the high school offers a very biased viewpoint towards not only the issue of gun-control, but also abortion, religion, and political parties. Even in this crucial election year for not only the state of Connecticut, but the entire nation, the firewall has selectively blocked candidate websites.
Bias in public schol classrooms is nothing new, but this was especially blatant. And Lampart wasn't prepared to let it rest. His Facebook complaint quickly caught media attention. And that explains Connecticut's Regional School District 14's new, publicly proclaimed devotion to Internet freedom.
Lampart's list of blocked and unblocked sites is below.
-National Right To Life
-Second Amendment Foundation
-National Rifle Association
-Paul Ryan for Congress
-The Black Sphere
National Right To Life Foundation