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A new program schools are using to monitor the social media accounts of students is being described as a safety precaution by administrators — but as unwarranted snooping by parents.
The program combs the Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts of students, both when they are in class and off campus.
“It monitors key words that could present threats, for example ‘gun’ or ‘attack’ or ‘kill’ or words of that nature,” said Bill Sublette, chairman of Florida's Orange County School Board. In addition to the Florida district, schools in Glendale, California are also using a similar monitoring program.
Schools say the program's goal is to prevent school violence. They point to recent school shootings in which the teenage gunman involved had posted threats on social media shortly before they engaged in the violent acts.
"Because social media can be the source of bullying, school threats or masked cries for help, we believe it is appropriate to monitor public sites where anybody can view comments,” the Orange County School Board said in a statement.
But parents say such monitoring program are a major violation of privacy.
“Their role isn't to parent,” said parent Valerie Radcliffe. “They need to stick to educating our children and let the parents parent.”
Their children agree.
“By them monitoring your social media, it's kind of like they're inviting themselves to sit at your kitchen table at Sunday dinner," said student Brooke Lynn Radcliffe. "It's not okay."
But some school administrators say safety trumps confidentiality.
“The bottom line here from the perspective of the school administrator is that it's better to be safe than sorry,” said Daniel Domenech, executive director of American Association of School Administrators.