At first Jordan Green, a freshman at Camdenton High in central Missouri, didn't give it much thought. While researching a project on gay rights at the school library, she Googled the words and was surprised to see a web page pop up saying her search was blocked when she clicked on any of the results. She tried twice more, modifying her terms, but still nothing. After Jordan discussed what had happened with her father, he contacted a civil liberties attorney. The result was a first-of-its-kind lawsuit asking a school district to change its Internet screening system to eliminate bias and discrimination. "These filters are a new version of book banning," says the American Library Association's Pat Scales. "But it's different in that this is much more subtle and harder to identify."
District officials had not set out to block gay websites. Camdenton was following the Children's Internet Protection Act, a 2001 law requiring public schools to use filters to shield students from pornography and obscenity. But the district purchased software that had been programmed to group gay sites with sexuality and porn, thereby blocking access to them. Most schools, in fact, don't take an active role in choosing what should be permitted, leaving that job to the private vendors who sell the web filters. "There's a problem when schools won't allow educators to make decisions and let technocrats do it instead," says Craig Cunningham, Ph.D., associate professor of education technology at National Louis University in Chicago. "On the other hand, it's a daunting task if you want to protect kids from anything controversial."
In February a federal court ordered the school district to discontinue its filtering system "as currently configured," and it complied. Not all parents were pleased. Stacy Shore, a mother of three, admits that she didn't give it much thought back when she signed the release allowing her children to use the Internet at school. "I had vague visions of them going to sites about traditional subjects like the presidents or world geography," she says. "Maybe I'm behind the times, but I'd like it to be more like an encyclopedia in the library, not the information superhighway." For her part, Jordan went on to finish the project. "It was a nice feeling," she says. "Plus I got 100 on it."UNDER FIRE
Book bans are nothing new. In 1885, when Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published, the Concord public library in Massachusetts banished the novel from its shelves, denouncing it as "the veriest trash...more profitable for the slums than...respectable people." Below are the 10 most frequently challenged works of 2011, according to the American Library Association.