New law requires schools, libraries to block some Web sites

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Public schools and libraries in Missouri have until New Year's Day to take more steps to prevent young people from looking at objectionable Internet sites.

Under state legislation passed earlier this year, public schools have to write rules that would set the standard for what is considered pornographic material. The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is overseeing the policies.

Public libraries also have to develop policies to help block access to computers that could be used to reach objectionable Internet sites.

The legislation signed into law by Gov. Bob Holden becomes effective Wednesday.

School and library employees would be subject to discipline if they fail to meet the law's requirements.

Officials for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said Monday that the new state law mirrors an existing federal law. Still, the department will finish a rule to meet the new Missouri requirements next month.

"Schools were already required starting this school year to be compliant with these security measures," said spokesman Jim Morris.

The U.S. Supreme Court is likely to consider next year whether public libraries that receive federal funding can be forced to install filters on computers to block sexually explicit Web sites.

Critics such as the American Civil Liberties Union, have argued that filters block Internet sites that offer helpful information about such things as health and science.

Marsha Richeson, a lobbyist for the ACLU who reluctantly agreed to the final version of the bill, said that local communities and not the state should determine how to proceed on the issue.

"We're still of the opinion that having each individual library decide what's best is a better way to go than clumsy filtering software," Richeson said. "Neither a library nor a school knows exactly what is being filtered out."

Richeson said the new law is an improvement on earlier proposals that mandated the use of filtering software.

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that three-fourths of school districts nationwide use blocking or filtering software.

Annie Busch, director of the Springfield-Greene County Library District, said despite its intent, there is only so much the law can do to control what young people have access to.

"It's not an easy thing to do. There is no silver bullet to solve these problems," Busch said. "Parents will still need to educate their children, talk to their children or supervise their children because there is no perfect solution."

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