School District That Said NSA Told It To Monitor Students' Social Media Posts Is Back With Non-NSA Approved Monitoring

from the forum-lurking-as-service dept

The same Alabama school district that claimed God the NSA told it to monitor its students’ social media activities is back in the news again. The tune has changed but the lyrics remain the same. This new social media monitoring program proceeds without the NSA’s blessing or the use of a snappy acronym, but it’s pretty much the same thing — only expanded to cover all students (potentially), rather than the former’s programs 600 or so “targets.” (via the Free Thought Project)

Over the weekend, Huntsville City Schools Superintendent Casey Wardynski released a video detailing new system-wide procedures designed to improve discipline and safety in schools.

Cell phone videos of fights at Huntsville High and Grissom High have been circulating online in recent weeks, stirring up debate about the effectiveness of discipline policies at the schools.

“We’re going to implement a procedure that directly addresses an area that’s become a real concern again,” said Wardynski in the video, published here, “which is how violence in our schools – how threats to our schools – interact with social media, and how social media can play a role, if we pay attention to it, in heading off problems.”

The new procedure will allow the superintendent and administrators to review the public social media posts of students who have a history of violence or whose behavior demonstrates a risk to student and employee safety.

There’s nothing stopping schools from reviewing public posts made to students’ social media accounts. Disciplining them for First Amendment-protected activity performed outside of the schools’ confines is a bit more problematic.

The one-page document laying out the specifics of the monitoring program (which really isn’t all that specific) states the school will take action against students if it feels posts made off-campus “threaten” the “safety” of the student body or its employees. Nowhere in the document is it indicated that this will be limited to true threats or other exceptions to First Amendment protections. Instead, the school makes it clear its monitoring efforts will be subject only to its own discretion, with punishments to follow for students who run afoul of its vague stipulations.

If the superintendent determines that a student’s social media posts reasonably constitute a serious threat of physical violence to students or employees, the superintendent may initiate such disciplinary action as he deems necessary to alleviate such threat.

If the superintendent determines that a student has made posts to social media indicating either that student or another student’s propensity towards violence or gang affiliation, the superintendent may also refer such student to any applicable school-based or district-level student supports.

The school-based or district-level student supports may, in appropriate circumstances, include recommendations for non-mandatory counseling and support for such student with the informed consent of the student’s parent or legal guardian.

The thing is that any actual criminal activity occurring off-campus should be handled by law enforcement, not school administration. Serious threats made by students when not on school grounds may be noted as reasons to forbid the students’ re-entry into the school, but this determination should be made after law enforcement has investigated.

The other stuff is vague nonsense. This puts the school in the position of monitoring posts for ethereal matter like a “propensity towards violence.” Then it wants school officials to act on it, even if the posts occurred off-campus, might have been taken out of context and/or do not actually represent the sentiments of the person expressing them (retweets, re-posts, “likes,” etc.).

Making this worse is the apparent impetus for the policy: apparently, video recordings of fights between students that were posted on social media and went somewhat viral. Superintendent Wardynski claims the fight was planned on social media platforms. His assertion is couched in DHS-speak.

“In each of those cases we’ve gone and done a forensic analysis of those cases and looked at social media surrounding those, and found there were a lot of precursor indicators in Facebook and other locations in social media that indicated a fight was headed to our school,” he said.

So, this isn’t a well-thought out policy. This is a kneejerk policy. Much like its previous, NSA-approved social media monitoring effort, isolated incidents are presented as trends in order to justify the district’s actions. In 2014, the program was justified because someone said something possibly threatening in a chat room while a Yemeni native was present and a “gang” composed of “six or seven students related to each other” was dismantled by the school’s “SAFe” team. In this case, it’s a fight or two that, like everything else these days, was captured for posterity by observers will cellphones and uploaded to social media platforms.

And, in the cases cited, the activity that was filmed occurred on school grounds, where it fell firmly under the district’s control. The superintendent is taking something fully-justifiable and expanding it beyond its logical and legal confines.

The district may find itself in trouble if it insists on punishing students for off-campus behavior. Despite being on the receiving end of backlash for the district’s last social media monitoring efforts, Superintendent Wardynski appears to have learned nothing.

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Comments on “School District That Said NSA Told It To Monitor Students' Social Media Posts Is Back With Non-NSA Approved Monitoring”

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AJ says:

I have a relative that is pretty high up in the school system in Atlanta. He said that a good percentage of the parents just don’t care. They don’t really want to raise the kids, they want the xbox and the schools to do it for them. Apparently a good portion of the parents support these types of programs as the more the school is doing, the less they have to do. If the school is policing their children’s social media, then they don’t have too. I have to believe him, if the parents really didn’t like this program, they could all protest to the school board. The last thing a school board wants is parents raising up against it.

Our schools are in piss poor shape. Metal detectors, guards on teacher parking, police in the schools, violence.. etc.. and I think they are over reaching with this type of program, but I really don’t blame them for trying to do something, they’ve got a mess on their hands.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

What do you expect from a nanny state? If I hired a nanny to raise my kids I’d expect the nanny to raise the kids.

The problem with violence in schools is likely related to a lack of discipline in schools. Suspension is a reward for students who dislike school yet seems to be a common ‘punishment’.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“The problem with violence in schools is likely related to a lack of discipline in schools. “

This mentality is why the schools are in the shape they are in. Schools are for education, parents should be taking care of the discipline. Suspension is a way for the school to separate the disruptive students from the students that want to learn. If suspension is a reward, it’s because the parents are allowing it to be so.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“the parents just don’t care. They don’t really want to raise the kids”

And, I’m guessing, this will be used as an excuse for monitoring the parents as well. Some of these dictator wanna-bes want to be able to give the parents grades as if they were the ones attending school. Others want to have the homes bugged with mic & cam. They honestly see nothing wrong with this.

I question the claim about parents not caring. To find one case and project it upon everyone else it total bullshit. Looks like a megalomaniac at the helm of the school district.

AJ says:

Re: Re: Re:

Sure, he was generalizing and No ones “projecting” this case on anything. To me, this is just a symptom of a larger social problem.

When you are in the middle of it day in and day out, meeting with students and parents every day, I tend to give that person the benefit of the doubt when they generalize. But think what you want.

“Some of these dictator wanna-bes want to be able to give the parents grades as if they were the ones attending school.”

I’m sure there are all kind of wild ass ideas running around out there. The bottom line is, and the point he was trying to make was; If parents where doing their job, the school wouldn’t have to do it for them. They are there to educate, not dicipline. These schools are coming up with these wild ass ideas because they are losing control. I don’t necessarily agree with their tactics, but I do agree something needs to be done.

Ward Cleaver says:


we just get what we deserve. The ever increasing encroachment on civil liberties in the name of “terrorism” will continue until we draw a hard line in the sand.

How I pray that one day the citizens of this country grow a backbone and find a peaceful, legal solution to put a stop this shite once and for all.

Anonymous Coward says:

so how about the parents getting together and suing the school for the surveillance and the removal of 1st Amendment rights? perhaps then, this type of Nazi behavior, surveillance of everyone, everywhere, will stop? the head obviously thinks he is entitled to do whatever he wants, whether in school or out. about time he was put in his place, perhaps?

Anonymous Coward says:

There is no way I would allow any school my child goes to to have their social media accounts monitored by school officials. That is a job for law enforcement and for parents, NOT school administrators. Not only that, but I would organize every parent to file a class action lawsuit against the school district for imposing this policy in the first place and encourage parents to pull their children from school until the school district withdraws this policy.

I don’t want school administrators to have access to my children’s social media accounts.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I don’t want school administrators to have access to my
> children’s social media accounts.

Social media, by definition, is a public forum. Everyone in the world, including people who work for your school, have access to your kids’ accounts. If you let your kids post things in public, you can’t then be shocked and clutch your pearls when you find out other people are reading what your kids write.

However, punishing your kids for what they post is an entirely different issue. That’s a gross overreach of authority by the school.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is not the Solution

Kids will just start creating a fake ‘school’ social media account and keep on bullying on their ‘real’ social media account.

We need solutions that encourage kids to not fight in the first place not ways to predict when the next fight might take place so we can try to stop it.

You cannot fix a behavior problem by simply looking for bad behavior.

The Baker says:

The constitutional issues are the critical

Yes, there are huge issues with our educational system that must be addressed,
Yes, we are becoming a “Nanny State”
Yes, parents expect everyone to raise their kids and are angry when others don’t.
Yes, sadly, Superintendent Wardynski recently lost his wife to Cancer.
Yes, everyone expects Superintendent Wardynski to just fix it, damn the repercussions.

We must first make sure that the continued actions of the uninformed, lazy, entitled, distraught, self serving or frightened do not erode our Constitution. This should be slapped down quickly as unconstitutional. Superintendent Wardynski and company would need to find a legal way to address their issues.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The constitutional issues are the critical

No, issues with education are mostly made up bullshit in the hopes that the stirred up trouble will be enough to allow them to “fix it”. ie: privatize education, which is no panacea – it actually makes things much worse.

If you put a nanny in charge, you will be nannied.

No, not all parents are slouching on couch as you claim. Some of them are responsible parents and do not like to be disparaged.

If school board members are not able to perform their job duties, perhaps they should move aside and allow others to do it.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Perhaps the larger issue at play here is the fact that the videos of fights reflected poorly on the school.

Rather than break down what caused & what allowed the fights to happen, we have to announce a massive overreaching system that will ‘solve’ everything.

No parent whats to deal with the fact their little angel is a problem. I’m sure many parents just abdicate that portion of raising the kids to the school. The school has to deal with finding out why the kid is so angry and is acting out in this way. The school has to solve the problem without the parent needing to do anything other than complain if their kid isn’t getting what they think they should get.

It is much easier to blame social media for all of the problems, than to hold up a mirror to some parents. Lets have this massive overreaching system & call the problem solved…. its worked so well for our other spy programs.

Anonymous Coward says:

The only thing I’m going to say is that there is no way I would allow any school administrator or law enforcement agency to have access to my children’s social media accounts. Not without a court order. Because then they could use the fact that you handed over access to your child’s social media accounts as an excuse to remove your children from your home claiming you didn’t fight to protect the privacy or security of your children.

It’s a catch-22. If parents just decided to protest and refuse to send their children to school until the school district rescinded their policy concerning social media accounts, trust me, they would think hard and fast. Public schools on dependent on Federal funding and if students are not going to school, that is definitely going to cause a lot of eyebrow raising in congress.

The problem is that parents don’t do enough to put their foot down and say ‘enough is enough’.

Back in the late 80’s, my younger sister was attending an elementary school. The school received a bomb threat. The principle did not evacuate the school, did not inform police, did not inform parents but she sent her own daughter home. When my dad found out about it, he organized the parents in the neighborhood and it created such a media backlash against the school, the principle and the board of education that it prompted congressional concern from our representative in congress and there were public hearings called.

Every parent was outraged over the discovery of what had happened and it resulted in our school board overhauling its policies on how it handles such serious threats.

The parents of this school district needs to organize and start putting their foot down. Only community activism from these parents and refusing to send their children to school is the only thing that will cause this school district to rethink their strategy.

Anonymous Coward says:

btr1701 is a moron. Schools don’t have access to someone’s social media account. Unless someone’s social media account is marked as “public” or someone has the login and password to that account, nobody can see what you’re posting on your account.

Personally, I run a free and open forum community dedicated to anime and manga. One of the features that I can employ is the ability to mark my forums as “private” meaning that someone would need to register to view my community or I can mark specific forums as “private”, meaning only invited members can see that content.

With such social media sites as facebook or youtube, you can choose on your account to have your content marked as “private”, meaning only people you approve to see your posted content can see and read that content. What these school districts are demanding has always been a student’s username/login as well as their password.

I would NEVER allow my children to provide access to their accounts to a school administrator. Monitoring what children do on the internet is something that is the responsibility of the parent, not some school administrator who may get overzealous if a student is posting an opinion about what they think of a principle, a school administrator or a teacher.

The school districts aren’t trying to improve student safety, they’re doing this to restrict the constitutional right to free speech that protects every citizen living in this country. This is nothing but kneejerk reactions by a paranoid school district who thinks that we still live in a country driven by cold war hysteria.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What these school districts are demanding has always been
> a student’s username/login as well as their password.

This Anonymous Coward is a moron. Maybe some school district somewhere has demanded passwords and login credentials from students– which would be illegal, by the way– but the school that is the subject of this article is not doing that at all. All they’re saying is that they’re going to be watching Twitter and Facebook for signs of impending school disruptions.

No one’s demanding anyone’s password here.

> This is nothing but kneejerk reactions by a paranoid
> school district

Behold the irony. Your knee is jerking pretty hard here, as well.

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