School officials in Huntsville, Alabama will be able to keep track of students' social media accounts by using a new program that will also hand out punishments based on what students post regardless of whether the accounts are public or private.
District administrators and Huntsville City Schools Superintendent Casey Wardynski will also be given the power to punish students who post videos of fights that occur on school grounds through disciplinary action or student-level support such as mandatory counseling.
Critics of the plan are arguing it is a way for the district to hide their failings.
Tracking social media accounts adds on to a program launched by Wardynski in 2014 that followed the social media accounts of 600 students. That program was created without the consent of the students, the school board, or the civic groups such as the ACLU. After revamping the program, Wardynski announced a new program this week in a video posted to the district's website.
"We're going to implement a procedure that directly addresses an area that's become a real concern again," Wardynski said in the video, "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 "procedure" Wardynski discusses would track the social media accounts of violent students or any considered to be a risk to school safety by school officials. The superintendent will then be able to use the posts to punish the students whether they were posted privately or publicly. In addition, the school district's director of operations can "use school supervision technology, tips from students and teachers, and information from campus security officers to identify students who are making threats or planning violence on social media."
A number of fights occurring recently at Huntsville and Grissom high schools inspired the new program. Videos of the fights were posted online, causing criticism to mount over discipline policies used in the district. According to Wardynski, school officials reviewed the incidents, as well as another that occurred at Huntsville Elementary. Social media posts were used in the investigation, which became justification for keeping track of students' social media accounts, writes Victor Skinner for EAGNews.
The new procedure was introduced shortly after the release of a report examining the underreporting of incidents that were referred to the local police department by the district to the state. The report claims that while 2,384 student incident reports were recorded at Huntsville City Schools for the 2014-15 school year, only 23, or 1%, were then reported to the state.
"In fact, the 23 incidents that were referred to law enforcement all occurred at Butler and Johnson High Schools. No other Huntsville City School incident report at any other campus was referred to police," WAFF reports.
Wardynski also discussed issues with the current school registration system that he said would be addressed and corrected. At the moment, families are allowed to register at any of the 36 schools in the district. The superintendent said doing so does not allow schools to conduct proper research to determine if a student requires special attention or services from social workers.
As of next fall, parents will register students at one of two locations to be determined at a later date. Wardynski said this will allow officials to find students who may have a history of violence or behavior issues.