Parents are claiming a major victory after one of the largest school districts in Colorado acknowledged last Friday it has discontinued purchasing or using any products for students from EBSCO, a company parents claim embeds pornography in its databases marketed for unsuspecting school children across the nation.

For the last two years, a group of parents and citizens – with recent assistance from the Thomas More Society — have fought with the Denver-area Cherry Creek School District. Parents requested that the district require EBSCO to clean up its database for school children or cancel its EBSCO contract altogether.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation, a group dedicated to fighting EBSCO explained the problem thusly:

EBSCO Information Services offers online library resources to public and private schools (K-12), colleges and universities, public libraries, and more. In its advertising for schools, it promises “fast access to curriculum-appropriate content.” However, its Explora, Science Reference Center, Literary Reference Center, and other products, provide easy access to hardcore pornography sites and extremely graphic sexual content. Innocent searches provide pornographic results. Via a system that bypasses school Internet filters, EBSCO brings the dark world of XXX to America’s elementary, middle, and high school children.

On June 23rd 2017, EBSCO wrote to NCOSE saying they were ‘confident’ the sexually graphic content was completely removed from their school products, but on June 26th NCOSE researchers found over 50 sexually graphic articles across 4 states in 50 minutes of searching. The vast majority of these graphic results came directly from EBSCO’s middle school and elementary school databases.

Since then, some notable improvements have been made in elementary school databases which NCOSE publicly acknowledges and applauds.

Unfortunately, EBSCO has failed to clean up middle school and high school databases, and continues to expose minors to sexually graphic and violent content including live links to pornography websites. Further, EBSCO products sold through libraries often allow children from any age range to log into databases meant for older students. This failure to appropriately age-gate content renders much of the improvement in elementary school databases insufficient.

The issue seems to be a filtering problem with the database, which should be a fairly simple fix. School networks have tightly monitored and enforced search parameters, preventing access to most inappropriate content. Parental controls at home also allow parents to filter what their children have access to online.

Last year, the Huffington Post attempted to debunk parental concerns, but only validated them in the process:

The issue revolves around academic search engines such as EBSCO. Folks who work in academia will recognize EBSCO as a widely used database that searches through zillions of dusty academic tomes for exactly the research article they’re looking for. Need some research regarding the bacteria that live in the gut of an earthworm? Or articles examining the impact the price of wheat had on romance poetry in 14th century Croatia? EBSCO is the place to go. Most scholars will be stunned to discover EBSCO holds a treasure trove of pornography and perhaps wonder how they’ve been using EBSCO wrong all these years.

However, the databases that EBSCO provides for youngsters are different from those for academics, including a fair number of easier-to-read periodicals that likely contain interesting educational material on various topics. Once again, there seem to be zillions of such articles, most of which are presumably databased by computer algorithm.

…Basically, type in a search term such as “sex education,” hunt through the links provided and at least a few of these take you to those “How to Please Your Partner”-type articles. The one shown in the NCSE link is more of a “Spicy Videos to Share with Your Partner” type article… again, not meant for 11- to 14-year-olds, but not porn per se, either. However, this article does provide links to webpages where videos could be ordered. Here the NCSE link gets vague again… the narrator spends some time worrying over “Fisting Day” (apparently there’s a “day” for just about everything), though presumably Little Jimmy’s parents would notice if he started sporting the t-shirt he could order from the site. As for the sex videos themselves, it wasn’t clear if they were kept behind a paywall.

…So, on one hand, EBSCO may occasionally provide access to articles that were written with adult audiences in mind and these, in turn, may provide information about how to access more explicit material (some of which may be behind paywalls.) On the other hand, this seems like a remarkably inefficient way to access porn, give how much easier real porn would be to access with a simple Google search. The generous interpretation of this situation is that any academic database sifting through zillions of publicly available articles is going to let a few naughty ones slip by. Eagle-eyed staff or parents could point these out and EBSCO could remove them with little need for fuss.

Again, schools, home networks, and devices all allow for parental controls. Doesn’t mean kids can’t get around them or inappropriate content won’t seep through, but it does mean these kinds of things are easily manageable.

“We are just happy the school district finally is doing the right thing,” said Dr. Robin Paterson, one of the parents most involved in the effort. “It’s taken two years,” she said. “But better late than never.”

Parents engaged in fighting the school district retained the representation of the Thomas More Society, who provided the following context:

When asked whether the school district’s action was in response to parental pressure, Dr. Paterson said, “There’s no way of knowing for sure. Cherry Creek School District has been so combative with parents about this, we wouldn’t be surprised if they deny that parents were the cause of this decision.”

“What we know for sure,” she said, “is that the school district was not looking at this until we started pressuring them – going on for more than two years now. Without parental pressure, it’s highly unlikely Cherry Creek would have discontinued buying EBSCO products. So we look at this as a victory for parents’ rights.”

Parents retained representation from the Thomas More Society. In fact, the Society had a law suit prepared and ready for filing when word came that Cherry Creek School District had decided to discontinue its contract with EBSCO.

“We don’t know if Cherry Creek had any information about the law suit being prepared,” said the Thomas More Society Senior Counsel Matt Heffron. “But we weren’t being very secretive about it. There were many people who were aware it was in the works.”

While this is a major milestone, the parents do not consider their efforts in Colorado to be completed yet. The parents’ group intends to continue to monitor the situation in the Cherry Creek School District. “And keep in mind,” said Dr. Paterson, “EBSCO still is supplying its pornographic databases to school children in school districts across Colorado. So we’re not done yet.”