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The Lake News Online
  • Forum concludes ACLU discussion

  • Despite a settlement in favor of its opponent, the Camdenton R-III School District insists a First Amendment lawsuit ended with the district's goals intact.


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  • Despite a settlement in favor of its opponent, the Camdenton R-III School District insists a First Amendment lawsuit ended with the district's goals intact.
    The first goal was to protect the students and their interests. The second was to ensure the district could go on using its own custom Internet filtering software, Superintendent Tim Hadfield said.
    The custom software was designed and built by the district's technology director Randal Cowen. The foundation of the software was coding already available through URL Blacklist, a commerically-managed service that categorizes websites. The lists vary from politics and religion, to blogs and social media sites, to pornography and sexuality filters.
    Had the First Amendment lawsuit continued, Hadfield said the outcome wouldn't have been favorable for the district. Mostly at risk was the district's right to use its own software and not be forced to purchase costly new software to block pornographic websites on district computers.
    Katie Cocks, a current high school student, and Anthony Brownell, a 2009 graduate, believe the district was the perfect choice for the American Civil Liberties Union to file a lawsuit alleging the district was violating First Amendment rights.
    During a district-sponsored public forum Tuesday night, Cocks said there are numerous students out there with personal and internal conflicts with how they are feeling inside, and have questions.
    Their parents may not be the most appropriate person to talk to about it because of religious or personal reasons, Cocks said, and, there's no one else in the community to talk to about this.
    School computers offer a safe place for those students to find useful information, such as dealing with bullying, Cocks said.
    Whether the district or the community wants to admit it, there is a huge bullying problem, Brownell said.
    He started questioning his sexuality during middle school but had few places to go to learn and explore those feelings, he said.
    Brownell is now openly gay and said he's happy the lawsuit was filed for one main reason – it has started conversations within the district, between students and between students and their parents.
    "There's a lot of ignorance out there," Brownell said.
    Just talking, Brownell said, can help if there are questions and thoughts floating out there.
    Others in attendance at the forum sided wished the district would have gone on fighting the lawsuit.
    Nancy Steward, a longtime opponent of the lawsuit, questioned parental rights and control over their child while they are at school.
    Constituntionally, students are granted their own rights at school, separate from their parents, the district's attorneys said. The case was a landmark case nicknamed the Harry Potter case. Several parents wanted to block their child's access to the books, and then be notified if their child attempted to check one of them out at the school's public library.
    Page 2 of 2 - The courts ruled that the students had rights to information and access when they are at school.
    "You have to trust in the school that they are blocking the right things," Hadfield said. District officials have checked and rechecked websites to ensure they do not contain pornographic material. There is also a policy in place for taxpayers to request that a website be blocked or unblocked from the filtering software.
    The ACLU filed the lawsuit during the summer of 2011 on behalf of several pro-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered groups as well as one unnamed high school student who later joined the suit. The suit's claim was that the district violated First Amendment rights of its students by prejudicially blocking non-sexual LGBT-supportive websites while allowing access to websites that took a stance against homosexuality. When the suit was settled, the Camdenton School District was required to pay the ACLU $125,000, unblock non-sexual pro-LGBT websites and submit quarterly reports of blocked websites to a third party.
    The district's insurance company covered the majority of the settlement costs, and a script error fixed in February unblocked non-sexual pro-LGBT websites.
     
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