The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal suit against Metro Nashville Public Schools, alleging that the district has unconstitutionally blocked students’ access to Internet sources of information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues. A similar suit was also filed against Knox County Schools.
The ACLU — as well as the ACLU of Tennessee — publicly named concerns about Web access in a public letter to Tennessee school districts last month. At that time, the organization said it would file suit against school districts that did not have a plan for addressing those concerns in place by April 29.
Metro Nashville Public Schools declined to comment on the case Tuesday, referring all questions to Metro Nashville’s legal department. A Metro legal attorney who works with Metro Schools was unavailable for comment.
According to the ACLU, about 80 percent of Tennessee’s public school districts — including MNPS — currently use Internet Filtering Software provided through contracts with Education Networks of America (ENA). Some of the districts using this software have enabled a filter called “LGBT,” which blocks the Web sites of several nationally known LGBT information and advocacy organizations.
Some of the organizations blocked include Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Marriage Equality USA, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).
This particular filter is not intended to block Web sites that are pornographic or obscene, according to the ACLU. Rather, the ACLU letter quotes information from ENA stating that the “LGBT” filter blocks sites that “provide information regarding, support, promote or cater to one’s sexual orientation, or gender identity including but not limited to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender sites.”
“Students need to be able to access information about their legal rights or what to do if they're being harassed at school,” said Keila Franks, a 17-year-old student at Hume-Fogg High School in Nashville and a plaintiff in the case, in a statement from the ACLU.
Plaintiffs in the case are Nashville students Franks and Emily Logan, Knoxville student Bryanna Shelton, and Karyn Storts-Brinks, a Knoxville high school librarian. The suit against MNPS was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.