Lawsuit claims students can access pornographic content in Colorado school libraries

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AURORA, Colo. -- Drew and Robin Paterson thought they were doing all they could to insulate their daughter from adult content online, until two years ago when they logged into her school’s online database for research.

“I was shocked,” Robin Paterson said. “In a very innocent search on biology, we ended up stumbling on pornography.”

“The first article that came up in the top searches said ‘Orgasms for All,’” Drew Paterson said.

The parents brought up their concerns with the Cherry Creek School district, but decided that wasn’t enough. Along with dozens of other concerned parents in Colorado, they formed a group dubbed “Pornography is not Education.” On Wednesday, the group filed a lawsuit against EBSCO, one of the largest research database providers in the country, and the Colorado Library Consortium.

The Colorado Library Consortium is a non-profit that brokers deals, and provides services, which can include the EBSCO database, to 171 Colorado school libraries, according to the lawsuit. The Consortium’s Executive Director Jim Duncan says he is unable to comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims EBSCO databases, including the one the Patersons used, contain links to sex toy shops, porn sites, and other adult content inappropriate for children. The lawsuit also claims EBSCO markets it’s databases as having “age-appropriate content.”

Vice President of Communications for EBSCO Information Services, Kathleen McEvoy, released the following statement to FOX31:

EBSCO has worked to provide quality, appropriate content to university libraries, public libraries, school libraries and other organizations for more than 70 years. To be clear, EBSCO does not include pornographic titles in its databases, embed pornographic content in its databases, or receive revenue for advertising from any organization. With teams of educators, librarians and subject matter experts (many of whom are also parents of children), we bring together well-known, educational publications into curated collections to serve specific research needs. In addition to the measures we take to ensure only appropriate content is included, we have tools that allow customers to remove any publications from the databases if they so choose.

We are appalled by the tenor of allegations related to our intent and the inaccuracies of statements clearly made in absence of factual information.

“If it doesn’t exist, why are so many entities dropping their EBSCO subscription?” Drew Paterson said.

In Colorado, Denver Public Schools and Douglas County Schools have discontinued their subscription with EBSCO, and in August of 2018, the Cherry Creek School District announced it would no longer be using EBSCO as it’s provider. In Utah, the state education network voted to shut down the database while the board investigates how adult images ended up on the platform.

“There’s really never a time that's too early to start talking to your kids about using the internet,” says Innovation and Technology Specialist for Denver University’s Ricks Center Alexandra Struzziero.

Struzziero says parents should have regular, open conversations about using the internet with their kids. She says it’s also important to lead by example.

“Setting up spaces in your home where it’s in a public space to use devices and computers,” Struzziero said.

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