Lawmakers: Students need broader Internet access

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and Republican state Sen. Rob Kane joined forces Monday to urge Connecticut school officials to allow students greater access to political websites, saying there is no justification for restricting high school students from accessing such websites for research.

Besides partisan websites, both politicians said teens should also have Internet access to hot political tops, such as abortion and gun ownership rights.

“I completely understand and agree with the rationale banning pornographic websites, but the topics that are hottest are among the most important for students to be debating,” said Murphy, who recently sent a letter to the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, or CABE, asking that its members provide students with greater Internet access.

Both Murphy and Kane teamed up after learning about a Woodbury student, Andrew Lampart, who recently raised questions with school officials about why an Internet firewall at Nonnewaug High School blocked him from accessing politically conservative websites. Kane, whose legislative district includes the high school, said Lampart was doing research on the 2nd Amendment and gun laws that have been enacted in Connecticut and elsewhere.

“He just kept digging a little bit further and a little bit further,” Kane said. “And he found … that certain websites were blocked and others were available.”

In a written statement posted on its website, Region School District 14, which includes Nonnewaug High School, acknowledged it was wrong to block “appropriate websites, regardless of political or religious viewpoints.” The district’s school board, administration and technology director have been working with Dell SonicWall, the filter used by Region 14, to identify the root cause of the problem.

“We now understand this was a function of how the parameters were set in the filtering criteria and we are confident it has been remedied,” according to the district’s statement.

Patrice McCarthy, deputy director and general counsel for CABE, said her organization is willing to meet with Murphy. While CABE’s government relations committee is expected to discuss the issue of Internet accessibility sometime this summer, she said her organization provides model policies to school boards and already encourages districts to foster an open dialogue.

“We think young people should be involved in civic education and preparing for engagement,” said McCarthy, who was not aware of any other high schools experiencing the same problem of certain political websites being filtered out.

But Kiernan Majerus-Collins, who graduated from Hall High School in West Hartford last year, said it’s common for students to come across blocked websites. When he was still in high school, Majerus-Collins said he could not access sites about hate groups, for example. That prevented him from visiting sites about Nazis for research about World War II.

“There were things that were very much historical facts, historical issues that were being blocked,” he said. “And so, very timely and important research was not able to be done at school, so you would have to do it at home.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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