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School Districts Remove Objectionable Material From Student Research Databases

By Mark Ackerman

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) - Some Denver area school districts are reevaluating their use of an educational database after a CBS4 investigation found the database could lead students to pornographic and obscene materials.

Robin Paterson, the mother of a middle school student in the Cherry Creek School District, said she stumbled onto the objectionable content while accessing her daughter's school account from their home in Aurora.

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(credit: CBS)

Paterson clicked on the EBSCO research database, a curated collection of periodicals and other research materials for student research projects, when she found links that were sexual in nature.

"There is obscene material, soft porn, links to hardcore porn, there's links to movies," she said while taking CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass through a tour of the objectionable sites she had found.

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Robin Paterson (credit: CBS)

While a web savvy teenager could likely find this type of material fairly easily online, Paterson said there is a major difference here.

"The difference is we pay for this with our tax dollars," she said.

EBSCO databases are in 55,000 school districts nationwide. Cherry Creek, where Paterson's daughter attends, pays $31,000 a year to access the service.

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"I was absolutely shocked to think that your school district would provide this type of material to your children," said Paterson's husband, Drew. "I wouldn't want any child exposed to this."

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Adams 12 Five Star School District also pays for its students to access EBSCO content. But when it started taking a closer look at what teens could get through EBSCO the district took swift action.

"My reaction to this is absolutely not appropriate for use in our schools," said Chief Academic Officer Priscilla Straughn. "As soon as we became aware of this we shut the system down."

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Priscilla Straughn (credit: CBS)

Straughn said the district reached out to EBSCO and went through the database to exclude periodicals which "provided opportunities for students to access inappropriate material."

The Cherry Creek School District, where the Paterson's daughter attends, also has now taken steps to limit student exposure to inappropriate materials.

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Harry Bull (credit: CBS)

"There are some articles in there that I don't know that middle school kids need to be reading," said Cherry Creek Superintendent Harry Bull.

Now when Cherry Creek students access EBSCO websites, they have to click on additional waivers and warnings, and other changes have been made.

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"What we've agreed to at our middle schools and high schools was with the removal of those periodicals that may or may not have questionable material, that we put things in a tighter box," said Bull, who said Cherry Creek would continue to contract with EBSCO because access to the research materials was very important to students.

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The Patersons are advocating for more scrutiny of databases like this, saying it isn't OK to expose kids to this under any circumstances.

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Drew Paterson (credit: CBS)

"That's not censorship," said Drew Paterson. "That's just recognizing as adults and parents we have a duty to protect children from information that can be harmful."

CBS4 contacted EBSCO, which said it conducted an independent review of its content and removed certain periodicals from its databases. EBSCO also said it is working with local school districts to help them remove any content they object to as well.

Mark Ackerman is a Special Projects Producer at CBS4. Follow him on Twitter @ackermanmark

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