A new report from the Houston Press indicates that the Houston Independent School District might be preventing their students from accessing pro-choice websites like Planned Parenthood and ProChoice.org, while allowing access to sites like Pro-Life Across America. Curious!

The HP reports that a Lamar High School student named Grace Wells noticed last semester that her access to Planned Parenthood’s website was blocked on the school’s wifi network. The Access Denied page reads, “The site you are attempting to visit is blocked because it belongs to the following category: Abortion, Health.”

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Wells repeated the experiment with other pro-choice websites, including Prochoice.org and the website for the National Abortion Federation, and found that those too were blocked. Easily accessible: Pro-Life Across America.

It’s not the case that HISD is blocking any site that uses the word “abortion,” since Pro-Life Across America uses it repeatedly. The District also provided a statement to Planned Parenthood claiming that it allows access to pro- and anti-abortion websites equally to middle and high-school students, but blocks them for elementary students:

“HISD allows all staff, high school and middle school students access to sites which provide information or arguments in favor of or against abortion, describing abortion procedures, offer help in obtaining or avoiding abortion, or provide information on the effects, or lack thereof, of abortion. It is blocked for elementary students, any generic account or generic student account and our guest networks since we will not be able to identify who is using the computer.”

But Wells is a high school student, meaning that if that were truly how the policy was applied, she should’ve been able to look at the Planned Parenthood website without difficulty.

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Texas has the highest rate of repeat births in the nation among teenagers aged 15 to 19. Blocking access to a website with information about birth control seems like... probably not the most effective way to address that.

Update, June 18: HISD Trustee Anna Eastman tells us the blocking of the Planned Parenthood page was an issue with firewalls, which she says is being addressed:

“My name is Anna Eastman and I am an HISD School Board Trustee. I was alerted to this issue in late May. Our IT department swiftly responded with the policy, which I support. We were never told that a high school student was trying to log in via the portal, which should have allowed access to the site per our policy. In fact, we were working with Planned Parenthood to fix the issue.

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We have a one-to-one initiative in our district that provides every high school student with their own laptop and students at all other levels have access to computers at school. Because so many children of various ages have access to the internet, we have firewalls in place that have what are supposed to be finely tuned filters. In this instance, the filters blocked access they were supposed to grant.I’m glad that we know about the problem so we will be able to appropriately apply the filters.

I’m also proud that our district does not actively censor important healthcare information.

Thank you for advocating for kids.”


Contact the author at anna.merlan@jezebel.com.
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