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May 23, 2015

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Arizona Mandates Stiff Penalties for Schools, Public Libraries Without Filters

Arizona’s public schools and libraries must filter all computers that are available to children or risk losing 10 percent of their state funding, according to a new law set to take effect August 1.

House Bill 2712 gives Arizona the authority to enforce filtering requirements in both school districts and public libraries that accept funding from the state. While Arizona already has laws in place requiring libraries and schools to filter, the new ruling goes further by allowing lawmakers to withhold 10 percent of their monthly budget, says Aiden Fleming, legislative liaison for the Arizona Department of Education (DOE), explaining that the new law now has “some teeth.”

Federal law already requires K-12 schools and public libraries to comply with filtering laws as set forth in the Children Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Those who don’t comply risk losing federal e-rate funding, which provides for certain technology services such as Internet connections.

Arizona lawmakers, however, felt the need to update current laws to ensure they were being enforced. The bill’s new language specifies, in part, what content schools and libraries must block, describing it now as “visual depictions that are child pornography, harmful to minors or obscene.” The law also states that schools and libraries must create a policy to enforce the ban on these materials, and they must make the rules available to the public. Libraries can unblock filters if an adult needs to access blocked material.

If a school or library doesn’t comply, it has 60 days to change the policy. After that, the state can withhold up to 10 percent of funding until the problem is resolved.

Still, Fleming notes that there’s no way for the DOE, in particular, to monitor whether schools, at least, actually place filters on computers, which could add a wrinkle to the law’s new tough stance.

“We don’t have any official way of finding out, unless a school is turned in,” he says.

While the penalty for noncompliance is steep, Fleming says the DOE doesn’t know of any school without filters. And so there’s little concern that the new law will catch anyone by surprise.

“Every district complies with CIPA,” he says. “So there shouldn’t be any school in the state that is not complying.”

The Phoenix Public Library also says it’s been complying with CIPA and works with the company, Websense, to block harmful sites.

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

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