Student: school censors conservative websites

A screenshot provided to Hearst CT Media Group by Andrew Lampert

A screenshot provided to Hearst CT Media Group by Andrew Lampert

Andrew Lampart couldn’t right click.

Yet the 18-year-old high school senior from Woodbury could left click with relative ease.

Denied access to conservative-leaning websites by the school district’s Internet firewall, the soon-to-be graduate of Nonnewaug High School lodged a formal complaint with the Region 14 Board of Education Monday night over what Lampart said is double standard.

While doing research for a assignment on gun control in the school’s library, Lampart said he tried unsuccessfully to visit the websites of Second Amendment groups such as the National Rifle Association on his Android tablet that was connected to the school’s WiFi network. Woodbury is 13 miles from Newtown.

Lampart said he ran into similar roadblocks while surfing the websites of anti-abortion and traditional marriage organizations — and even the Connecticut Republican Party.

Access to the websites of the Connecticut Democrats, the pro-gun control Newtown Action Alliance and advocacy groups for the LGBT community was unfettered, according to Lampart, who took screen shots from his Internet browser.

“It was appalling to see that it was very one-sided,” Lampart, who is bound for the Christian-oriented Liberty University in the fall and is in the process of starting up a Young Republicans chapter in Woodbury, told Hearst Connecticut Media Wednesday.

Jody Ian Goeler, the superintendent of Region 14, which serves the towns of Woodbury and Bethlehem, denied that the district has a political agenda.

“There is not a bias,” Goeler told Hearst Wednesday. “We’ve done everything we can in a our power to ensure that students have access to a variety of resources and a variety of different perspectives.”

Goeler said that the website of the Connecticut Democrats should have also been blocked by Dell SonicWALL, a paid firewall service that the district uses to filter sites accessed on its computers and WiFi network.

Any website that is political in nature is restricted under a uniform policy, according to Goeler, who said that political parties are treated no differently than groups such as a the Ku Klux Klan or Neo-Nazis.

Teachers do have the ability to override the restrictions on a case-by-case basis if a students needs to visit a website for an assignment, he said.

“From a policy perspective, I think we’re solid,” Goeler said. “We have a very good policy.”

From bullying and sexually explicit websites to those political in nature, Goeler said there are 64 categories of restricted sites.

The superintendent said he spent an entire day with the district’s information technology officer after Lampart went to the school board. Additional websites that might have an advocacy component such as the Newtown Action Alliance are also blocked now, said Goeler, who added that the district is reviewing its choice of firewall provider.

Messages seeking comment were also left Wednesday for John Chapman, school board chairman for Region 14.

State GOP Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. condemned the district’s Internet access policy.

“If it’s true, it’s very troubling and constitutes a dangerous form of censorship,” Labriola told Hearst Wednesday. “I call upon the school district to give equal access to political viewpoints across the spectrum. The last thing we need are young innocent minds poisoned by a radical liberal ideology espoused by clueless so-called educators.”

Lampart said he brought the matter to the attention of Goeler toward the end of May.

“When I first went to the superintendent, he seemed surprised and vowed to fix the problem,” Lampart said. “Nothing was done.”

Lampart said he complained to members of the Region 14 school board and went so far as to speak at the body’s meeting Monday night.

“As of right now, the issue has not been fixed, nor do I know of any course of action they’re taking,” Lampart said. “Somebody must have categorized the websites initially. The teachers also have the ability to block or unblock some websites.”

Even the official website of the Vatican was blocked, according to a screen shot provided by Lampart.

Lampart said the student body at Nonnewaug is split between liberals and conservatives like himself.

“You can definitely tell what side of argument that teachers stand on,” Lampart said.

More screenshots provided by Lampert:

Neil Vigdor