Earlier this month, Billings Public Schools implemented a new filter system that blocks websites based on a list of keywords.
A few days later, CounterPunch magazine reported that students were also unable to access certain websites addressing pro-LGBTQ issues.
Twelfth-grader Clara Bentler, a student leader at Billings Senior High School, says a teacher showed her the list of blocked keywords and key phrases.
They range from things like “child abuse material” to “advertising” and “Alternative Sexual Lifestyles (GLBT).”
Bentler says the extensive list affects students’ ability to research for class.
“So like, LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer] content or crime or terrorism,” said Bentler. “We have tried testing it out on our phones and were able to look up those things on our phones, but on the district’s computers we aren’t, which is where kids are using them for projects or papers.”
School administration explains the blocks are part of a new program called ContentKeeper, which the Billings Public Schools put into place a couple of weeks ago.
Superintendent Greg Upham says the filter is a firewall against pornographic sites or other types of sites that might impinge on the safety of students, but it casts a wide net.
“There’s no intent to socially engineer any type of information away or toward any one specific group. That’s not the point,” said Upham. “This is all to make sure that the information that our students are accessing are within the law.”
He says they’re breaking in the new program, and the IT department will review comments from staff and students and renew access to sites on a case-by-case basis.