Surprise, Surprise: Someone is Lying
by Susan Ohaniam
Background: I have known for several years that my website was banned in the Aldine Texas school district. I waited until they won the 2009 Broad Prize for Urban Education before registering a complaint. I admit I find it a bit delicious that a Broad Prize-winning school district would censor a website given the NCTE George Orwell Award for Distinguished Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language, the only Website ever so honored.
When a user attempted to access "No Child Left Behind: Costs and Benefits" by William J. Mathis
Phi Delta Kappan, May 2003, they sent me a screen shot of this message that appeared on the computer screen.
Access to this web page is restricted at this time
Your attempt to access the requested site may be in violation of Aldine ISD policy and has been restricted by the Technology Services Department.
Site Category: "Education; political/Activist Groups"
Blocked web page: http://susanohanian.org/show_nclb_outrages.html?id=74
IP address: 10.125.100.6
Imagine the danger: A teacher wanting to read an article that appeared in Phi Delta Kappan.
However, nothing on my website can be accessed. Jim Crawford reports that the Institute for Language and Education Policy
is also blocked.
This notice runs along the bottom of the homepage of the Aldine ISD:
Aldine Independent School District does not discriminate against persons because of race, creed, national origin, age, sex, disabilities, economic status or language disability in employment, promotion or educational programming.
They only discriminate against certain political views.
Here is their mission statement:
We exist to prepare each student academically and socially to be a
* critical thinker
* problem solver
* responsible and productive citizen
A Texas educator filed this Freedom of Information request to find out the list of blocked sites.
Public Information Department
Aldine Independent School District
14910 Aldine Westfield Road
Houston, TX 77032
Phone: (281) 985-6202
Fax: (281) 985-7273
Pursuant to the Texas Public Information Act, please provide in electronic form the sites that are restricted on the Aldine Independent School District's network that are categorized as "Education;Political/Activist Groups."
Please provide this information by Friday, October 2, 2009.
Thank you very much.
This message was received from Aldine on 9/22/09:
No. We subscribe to a service from a company called Blue Coat. Their database is updated daily. Blue Coat owns the database which is considered proprietary. We choose which categories to use but we don't have access to a list of sites in their database. We are able to unblock ("whitelist") sites for use in Aldine.
If someone wants the complete database for any category they would need to contact Blue Coat and I don't know whether they would provide it or not.
And although I hadn't written, I received a reply the same day: 9/22/09:
Thank you for sending your email alerting me that your site was blocked. Apparently, our internet filter automatically blocked several sites, including yours. Your site and the others have been unblocked.
Wanda Bamberg, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools
Aldine ISD Central Office
Deciding that it was time that I make some inquiries, I tried contacting Blue Coat on the Internet. This resulted in entirely frustrating phonecalls from the sales staff. So I wrote a letter to the president of the company. Here's the answer I received by Certified Mail, for which I had to sign for three times.
November 5, 2009
VIA CERTIFIED MAIL
Dear Ms. Ohanian:
Brian NeSmith has referred your recent letter to me. Please be advised that we do not impose "bans" on the Web sites that others may visit and, specifically, have not banned www.susanohanian.org. We sell products that identify and classify the nature of Web sites, so that our customers may appropriately block access to certain types of Web content. The election of what classifications to block is made by the customer. For instance, many of our customers elect to block "pornography" or "adult content"--particularly if children may use the computer systems to access the Internet.
Your Web site, www.susanohanian.org, has been classified as "education" and "political/activist." Based on a brief review of your Web site, I believe that classification is appropriate. If those who use computers managed by the Aldine, TX school district are being blocked from accessing your site it is because the school district has blocked access to sites classified as "education" or "political/activist," or both. Again, while it is the Blue Coat product that is blocking access, it is the school district that has made the decision to block that type of content.
Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any questions concerning the foregoing
Betsy E. Bayha
Senior Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary
Bllue Coat Systems, Inc.
420 North Mary Ave.
Sunnyvale, CA 94085
How nice that she brings up pornography while discussing my website. Note the lawyerly distinction.It seems apparent that Blue Coat has a little list of education; political/activist sites. But they are refusing to reveal who's on that list. Trade secret, I suppose. It also seems apparent that districts like Aldine exercise all due caution over the protection of their scripts by pulling the switch for blocking anything labeled "education; political/activist."
Open call to someone in Aldine: Please contact me. I'd love to give you a list of sites to try to access. Let's start with the Republican and Democratic parties, the Business Roundtable and work our way through to Socialist International, People for the American Way, and Daughters of the American Revolution.