In a place that has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy (and repeat teen pregnancy) in the country, one would think it could be helpful for Houston Independent School District students to know about different reproductive health resources, such as those offered at Planned Parenthood. We can't really know how helpful that would be, though, since it seems one of students' major points of access to information has been summarily blocked.
According to a report from the Houston Press, Houston ISD appears to be blocking access to pro-choice websites on high school campuses, while allowing students to reach sites that promote antiabortion views. Grace Wells, a rising senior at one of the district's largest high schools, told the Press that she tried to visit the Planned Parenthood website on her school-issued laptop last semester while she was connected to the campus wifi network, but received a curious "access denied" message.
"The site you are attempting to visit is blocked because it belongs to the following category: Abortion," the message said.
Wondering what other websites were blocked, Wells claims she also attempted to access sites such as the National Abortion Federation's ProChoice.org. She was once again denied. But when she typed in the addresses for other websites dealing with abortion -- specifically for organizations that are hostile to the procedure -- Wells had a different outcome. The website for Pro-Life Across America, which mentions abortion quite a bit, loaded without any trouble.
So...what's the deal? According to school district spokesperson Ashley Anthony, Houston ISD's Internet policy is "in line with the federal Children's Internet Protection Act," a 2000 law limiting minors' access to "materials harmful to them" in schools and public libraries. The district also released a statement to Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast claiming it only blocks abortion-related information for some HISD students:
HISD allows all staff, high school and middle school students access to sites which provide information or arguments in favor of or against abortion, describing abortion procedures, offer help in obtaining or avoiding abortion, or provide information on the effects, or lack thereof, of abortion. It is blocked for elementary students, any generic account or generic student account and our guest networks since we will not be able to identify who is using the computer.
As Wells later explained to the Press, though, she met the criteria to access abortion-related websites -- but she was still denied, which she finds troubling. "It's a medical resource, an informational resource, and there's a ton of information on their website that we're not allowed to see on campus that would be extremely helpful to us," Wells said. "By blocking these sites, I feel like they're trying to make this decision [about abortion] for us."
Anthony later issued a follow-up statement claiming the whole thing was a mistake:
While blocked at the elementary school level, the sites and subject matter in question should not have been blocked for students at the middle school and high school levels. IT will be reviewing internet filters for student accounts to ensure all settings are in compliance with district policy and administrative regulations.
Guess we'll see if HISD students can access medical information from school when they return in the fall.