EBSCO services restored to K-12 schools after complaints of obscene material

A research service will be available again to Utah students and teachers again after some claimed it showed indecent material. (File photo: K UTV)

(KUTV) — A research service will be available again to Utah students and teachers again after some claimed it showed indecent material.

For the last 27 days, the pleas of students, teachers and educators flooded the Utah Education Network and the Utah State Board of Education in defense of EBSCO, one of the country’s largest online research database providers.

EBSCO had gone dark, thanks to complaints from a group of concerned parents and a group called Family Watch International that lead to a UEN board vote to pull the plug — at least, to access on public school networks — while the board investigated how allegedly obscene material ended up on the site.

“I rely on EBSCO in order to teach argument writing to my students. Please reinstate it!” a Utah educator wrote in a comment submitted to the UEN board, one of several hundreds of messages defending the value of the research tool.

At a UEN meeting today, the board voted to restore students’ access to EBSCO, outlining the exhaustive efforts made by the network and the research provider to tweak content filters and flag problematic search terms.

The same cadre of anti-porn activists who had shown up at previous meetings weren’t pleased. A number of them testified prior to the board vote, urging members to keep the site dark, with some claiming to have searched innocuous terms and stumbled upon obscene materials.

“I have 11 pages,” one woman testified, holding up a stack of paper from which she read a colorful, if uncomfortable, sampling of erotica.

“From where?” a member of the audience asked.

“This is EBSCO, last night at 10:30,” the woman said.

Board members later pointed out that the portal of EBSCO’s database that is accessible in schools was still disabled at 10:30 the previous night.

Family Watch International director Merilee Boyack’s public comments resembled something like a warning. A Colorado group called Pornography is Not Education filed suit on Oct. 10 against EBSCO and the Colorado Library Consortium, she said. The Colorado lawsuit states that EBSCO “knowingly provides sexually explicit and obscene materials to school children.”

“I believe that if UETN voted to reinstate EBSCO at this point, they would be facing significant legal liabilities,” Boyack said.

The Colorado Association of Libraries called that lawsuit “baseless,” and stated in an Oct. 12 press release: “[The plaintiffs’] true aim is to censor all electronic materials from school and public libraries, despite the fact that both federal and Colorado state statutes adequately and appropriately address the need to ensure age-appropriate access to information in our public schools and libraries.”

Several Utah library advocates also defended the use of EBSCO in letters of support to the UEN board, including the Utah Educational Library Media Association.

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