Principal lifts block of student Web site from school computers

PENNSYLVANIA — The principal at Carbon County Vocational-Technical School has removed a computer network block on a student-run Web site and says the site can remain accessible as long as it causes no disruption.

The Babbitt, an online newspaper run by seniors James Curry, Conrad Flynn and Katherine Marks had been blocked from all Carbon County school computers since January 2002.

According to Curry, the administration first took issue with the Web site over an article published on the site about a teacher who allegedly falsified a disciplinary referral form. A local newspaper and television station both picked up the Babbitt’s story a few months later. The heightened publicity led to what Principal Paul Caputo called a significant disruption of the school, although no specifics were given about the alleged disruption.

In an interview with Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., last spring, Caputo said he felt forced into blocking the Web site.

“I just felt the language and the content [weren’t] appropriate for school viewing,” Caputo said. “I felt I had no choice. They weren’t responding to my requests to be fair and balanced and accurate.”

Caputo threatened The Babbitt‘s staff with expulsion from school and had the Web site blocked from all county schools’ computers shortly thereafter. The students continued to update the Babbitt while the block was in place, and the site remained accessible off school grounds.

Caputo lifted the block Oct. 11 after Curry requested that he do so in a meeting earlier that day. Curry told Caputo that the American Civil Liberties Union and Student Press Law Center had offered their legal support if he decided to sue the school to stop the block. The principal said he would allow The Babbitt to be accessed for a “trial period” as long as the site adheres to the school’s network policy.

Curry said he has not been furnished with a copy of the network policy, despite several requests.

“I really don’t know what the policy is,” said Curry.

Caputo could not be reached for comment.