School Hires Ex-FBI Agent to Watch Students on Social Media
byKaitlin StanfordNov 04, 2014
Photograph by Getty Images
An Alabama school has apparently gone to great lengths to snoop on their own students and investigate out-of-school activities on social media. In fact, Huntsville City Schools threw down a hefty six figures to hire ex-FBI agent Chris McRae to do the dirty work, which resulted in 14 students being expelled last year, al.com reports.
To be clear, McRae's gig wasn't just about Facebook and Twitter stalking—he was actually there to beef up school security in general—but a huge part of his duties were devoted to leading the charge on the social media-focused investigation. And according to Superintendent Casey Wardynski, McRae went on tips provided by students or teachers to look into specific students who might be involved in out-of-school gang activity. The ex-FBI agent also enlisted fellow investigators to look for any signs of gun use or gang involvement on the students' social media accounts.
And this was no small investigation, either. In total, 600 of the 24,000-student district were looked into. Though only 14 were expelled as a direct result of something found on their social media accounts, a total of 305 students were expelled by the end of the year.
"These numbers tell me that I have kids with some major issues," school administrator Laurie McCaulley told al.com. "What I think the board is doing is trying to provide a safe environment for all children."
Still, while school administrators are pleased with the program's success so far, others are criticizing it for what they say is rampant racial profiling. Seventy-eight percent of those expelled were black in a school where only 40 percent of the student population is African-American. As for the 14 students expelled over their social media activities in particular? The race-ratio seemed off there, too—12 of them were black.
"That is effectively targeting or profiling black children in terms of behavior and behavioral issues," said Madison County Commissioner Bob Harrison.
Others are more concerned with whether or not this is a sound use of their tax dollars.
Take Jeannee Gannuch, co-founder of the South Huntsville Civic Association. As she shared with al.com, she recently noticed that T&W, the consulting firm working with McRae's investigation, is following her own civic group on Facebook.
"My tax dollars are paying for a hired hand to watch a political organization? That doesn't seem right," said Gannuch, who feels she's being targeted for being critical of local officials in the past.
Do you think this kind of security program goes too far?