Conservative groups work to end Utah's partnership with data base company EBSCO

The Utah Education Network board voted to keep its EBSCO database shut down while it investigates pornographic images able to be accessed through the database. (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) — It all started with a search by Nicoleen Peck on her personal computer of a database used by Utah students for research. The EBSCO database has been used and overseen by the Utah Education Network for almost 10 years.

Peck, after about 45 minutes, says she found what amounts to pornography on the site — a site that promises to protect students from objectionable images.

Peck told 2News how she got to the images, and Beyond The Books was able to replicate the search. The search turned up the following images:

  • a picture of a two women kissing
  • a picture of a woman showing her buttocks to the camera. She is clothed but wearing only underwear
  • a picture which shows two men kissing and touching a topless woman on a bed; she is only wearing panties as well. The woman’s breasts are exposed but covered by pasties.

“Pictures, you know, lots of yucky pictures” Peck said. After finding the images, Peck complained to a Utah state lawmaker, and to the Utah Education Network, which hosts the database administrated by EBSCO.

The actions taken by Peck started a chain of events that lead to the UEN board voting by a margin of six-to-one, with one member abstaining, to keep the EBSCO database shut down while the board investigates how the images ended up on the site.

“I’m not sure we know all the answers,” said Ray Walker, the chairman of the UEN board. He said he was disturbed that the images had been discovered, and voted in favor of keeping the website shut down.

Still, Walker says in this digital age, the EBSCO database is necessary for school kids doing research.

“There is just no way to 100 percent protect anybody — there’s no perfect filter," Walker said. "There’s no perfect way to protect anybody from anything."

Peck and about a dozen parents were at the UEN meeting Monday night. Among them was Merilee Boyack, the executive director of Family Watch International.

Boyack said the state should end its relationship with EBSCO, much like the Cherry Creek School District in Aurora, Colorado did last month for similar reasons.

“We do not trust the fox guarding the hen house," Boyack said of EBSCO.

While UEN looks into the inappropriate images, Beyond the Books looked into the people who are demanding UEN end its relationship with EBSCO. It turns out Peck and Boyack helped organize many of the parents who showed up at the UEN meeting.

Peck, the woman who discovered the questionable material, is a conservative blogger who has been working with the very parents in Colorado who shut down the website in Aurora. Boyack’s organization has a controversial past, including advocating for the use of conversion therapy on LGBTQ+ individuals.

Boyack, after her interview with Beyond The Books, told reporter Chris Jones off camera, that she is organizing with dozens of conservative organizations to shame Utah into ending their contract with EBSCO.

“We’re hitting it nationwide within the next week,” Boyack said. “In fact, I just talked to our lobbying firm today and they are trying to have a congressional hearing on it within a couple of weeks."

Meanwhile, while the website is shut down, many students and teachers are caught off guard and without a resource they have used in the past. In fact, two dozen students and parents complained to UEN about the fact that the database is no longer accessible — a sentiment echoed by a teacher who spoke before the UEN board Monday night.

“It’s had a very detrimental effect on my classroom,” the teacher said.

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