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.

(credit: CBS)

(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.

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.

(credit: CBS)

“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.”

(credit: CBS)

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.”

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.

(credit: CBS)

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.

(credit: CBS)

“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.

(credit: CBS)

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

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

Comments (2)
  1. Thank you to CBS4 for bringing this safety information to our community. The CCSD has now taken steps to limit obscene content, but much more work is needed – we are continuing to locate pornographic material in the CCSD K-12 databases and much of this is not blocked by school filters. Other Colorado school districts also use EBSCO and the problems are endemic around Colorado and the country. For more details, see the National Center on Sexual Exploitation which named EBSCO to its 2017 Dirty Dozen List as a major contributor to the sexual exploitation of women and children endsexualexploitation. org/ebsco/ . The Center has also reached out to Fox News in Birmingham, where EBSCO is headquartered, to further expose this socially irresponsible company for streaming obscene content into K-12 “online research databases” wbrc. com/story/35775174/could-your-kids-find-pornographic-articles-on-school-computers . EBSCO is not the only company which is streaming obscene content into K-12 databases. The prolific, Gale Opposing Viewpoints, like EBSCO, has links to hard core porn disguised as “health education” websites and streams editorials espousing the merits of “sex work”, plus ads for “sex toy shops” and escort services into its schools products. The internal content of “subscriber databases” like EBSCO and GALE are protected from top site filtering – some of these companies even peddle “mobile apps” to school children. This information has been sent to the CASB so every district in the state was put on notice last fall. Public libraries have also been notified of the volumes of pornographic material streaming into K-12 “homework” databases and even into computers reserved as “Children’s Areas”. Overdrive is another subscriber database which has been notified that they are streaming literally hundreds of “erotic fiction” stories into databases used by children, as “for kids”, and even offering these as “recommended” reading on children’s computers. Our group has located such material in the Arapahoe Library District, City of Aurora Public Libraries, and in other major and rural library districts across the state. The Colorado Library Consortium, in collaboration with the CDE / State Library is responsible for the sale and distribution of ebsco and other subscriber databases to schools and libraries across Colorado.

  2. Vince Garin says:

    No, this is censorship. EBSCO is one of the few decent research databases available. You are crippling these students’ access to important information. This is an incredibly imbalanced article. I really wish you’d speak with the school librarians employed by this school district. Absolutely absurd.

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