Board votes to restore Utah public schools' access to educational database

Board votes to restore Utah public schools' access to educational database

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah public schools' access to the EBSCO Information Services educational database has been restored after its use was blocked for nearly a month following complaints that the database contained inappropriate material.

On Friday, the Utah Education and Telehealth Network Board voted unanimously to restore schools' access to the K-12 database after it was temporarily halted while officials reviewed the complaints and worked with the provider to upgrade filters intended to block access to inappropriate material.

Ray Timothy, the executive director of the board, said his own grandchildren use the databases that the educational network contracts with so he takes complaints of access to inappropriate materials seriously.

But in this case, "we have not been able to replicate" access to inappropriate materials that resulted in the temporary shuttering of the database.

He assured the board that enhanced controls are in place.

"It has been locked tight. I feel comfortable that my grandchildren and other children are not being exposed to content that is inappropriate. Obviously I say that recognizing that you can’t guarantee that 100 percent," he said.

Timothy encouraged anyone who sees or accesses anything inappropriate "to bring that to us so we can review it."

Working with the database, the educational network now has "an instantaneous block on those terms so that is no longer available. Then we’ll go through the review and see if it is content we need to remove from the EBSCO database," Timothy said.

Board members thanked staff for working quickly to review the complaints and make changes that further safeguard Utah public schoolchildren from accessing inappropriate material.

"They have taken every precaution and step possible under the circumstance," said board member David Long of the Logan City School District.

Board member Tami Pyfer, education adviser to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, concurred.

"I was impressed with a great deal of work done in a very short period of time," she said.

The educational database has vast collections of published content from popular magazines to scientific journals. It provides different tiers of access to its products: one for K-12 students, another for higher education and public libraries.

Peter Bromberg, executive director of the Salt Lake City Library and advocacy chairman for the Utah Library Association, said the database provides "extremely granular controls" to tailor access to materials in its collections.

"EBSCO provides an extremely safe research experience for students," Bromberg said.

Long cautioned that "filtering can only do so much. That's always been the case and will be the case going forward."

Ensuring proper use of the educational network also requires supervision and direct involvement with students as they use the resources, he said.

Following the public comment period of Friday's meeting, Utah Education and Telehealth Network Board Chairman Raymond Walker, who is chief information officer for Utah Valley University, said he "was a little troubled by misleading and misinformation that has actually been perpetuated by both sides."

One woman read aloud to those attending the meeting excerpts of very explicit content she said she found on the database at 10 p.m. Thursday.

Walker reminded the board and audience members that access to the K-12 database had been shut down since Sept. 22 so anyone who had accessed such materials found them elsewhere.

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Marjorie Cortez


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