In shocking news out of Alabama, the Huntsville city schools there have paid a former FBI agent a reported $157,000 to investigate the activities of students on social media. The former agent is said to be overseeing security and investigating potential threats. This investigative snooping has allegedly led to the expulsion of 14 students.
According to the Madison County Commissioner, Bob Harrison, the number of black students expelled (12 of the 14 were black students) indicates black students are being targeted. However, board member Laurie McCaulley, the only Black member of the city school board, said, “These numbers tell me that I have kids with some major issues. What I think the board is doing is trying to provide a safe environment for all children.”
Former FBI agent Chris McRae runs a program called SAFe, which is designed to stop online bullying and other threatening behavior. According to a report dated October 6, 2014, the NSA (National Security Agency) tipped the Huntsville City Schools off to a potential threat they discovered on Facebook. Huntsville schools Superintendent Casey Wardynski reported the alleged tip came from the NSA. However, the NSA denies having any record of contacting the school.
Superintendent Wardynski, a retired U.S Army Colonel, pushed back against the NSA’s denials. The NSA claims they are only watching foreign threats and would not have reported such domestic threats as was indicated. However, Wardynski argued that the student in this case was found to have reached out to an individual in Yemen while online.
Regardless of what brought about the school’s decision to begin monitoring student’s private social accounts, a question of right to privacy exists. According to school officials the monitoring is limited to threats of violence against students or staff at the school. The Superintendent denied that any action was taken on cases of drugs, alcohol, or other activities.
However, the grounds used to expel a student are dubious.
“SAFe officials found the pictures violated the city schools’ Code of Conduct, section 3.11, baring: Knowing possession of a weapon or anything designed, made or adapted or used for the purpose of inflicting death or serious physical injury.” This Code of Conduct was used as grounds for expelling a student who posted a picture of himself holding a handgun and a cell phone.