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ACLU Requests Records from Superintendent’s Social Media Monitoring

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

According to some reports from the Alabama Media Group and its “Huntsville Times” franchise, the Huntsville City schools, under the direction of Superintendent Casey Wardynski, has spent up to $595,000 systematically reviewing the social media accounts of students who attend the public school system. Responding to concerns that perhaps rights have been violated there, the ACLU of Alabama has formally requested records about the school system’s intelligence gathering program, SAFe.

Randall Marshall, the legal director of the ACLU of Alabama said in a written statement, “The ACLU is concerned about the systemic monitoring of student speech across the country. We are pursuing this issue by a public records request to the Huntsville City Schools to gather more information about its practices. They have yet to respond and if they continue to ignore our requests, we may have to take legal action to obtain the records.”

Schools teach many lessons about life. They teach academic subjects like, reading, writing, math, history, science, computing, etc.  Schools also teach life lessons that translate to a lifetime in the working world including, do what you are told to do, don’t be late, at least look busy, trouble makers will be punished, and now (in an increasing number of schools) you can be punished severely for what you do on social media by your school or employer even when not at your school or employer.

While in theory, Americans are endowed by God and their Constitution with freedom of speech, we all know that if we say something bad about an employer or something which an employer finds offensive, especially if it is in a format that can be printed off as “evidence” or shared 500 times in an electronic format, that there could be potentially severe repercussions at our job. In theory, we could write something on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram account that is, really offensive, blatantly racist, threatening, and/or outright disturbing and there is nothing the government can do about it; but that doesn’t mean we will have our spouse, our friends, or our job after we did that.

Public schools, however, are a gray area. The government requires by law that we educate our children and even provides free public schools for that to happen if we are unable or unwilling to pay for it ourselves. Obviously, the children at those schools have to sacrifice some of their freedoms for the sake of order in the classroom. God may have endowed us with freedom of speech and that may be guaranteed by the Constitution; but that does not mean you can exercise that right while the class is taking a math test. How far does the government school’s authority extend? We have First Amendment speech rights to express our ideas in photos. We have a Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.  Taking a picture of us while we are bearing our Constitutionally protected weapons and posting that to Facebook is our First Amendment right…but as some Huntsville students found out that can get you expelled from school, even though the photos were not taken on school grounds.

According to original reporting by the “Huntsville Times” Challen Stephens, Supt. Wardynski claims that an agent with the National Security Agency (NSA) reported a student for chatting with bad characters in the Middle Eastern County of Yemen about wanting to hurt a teacher. Based on that tip school officials searched that student’s vehicle, found a knife, and expelled the potential juvenile terrorist. NSA monitors international communications, especially in a state like Yemen where known terrorist groups operate, as part of the ongoing war on terror, although school security is not normally part of NSA’s mission and the NSA will not acknowledge that that conversation ever took place.

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Following that incident, Supt. Casey Wardynski then took the initiative to implement and oversee a massive spy apparatus aimed at students in Huntsville’s schools.  The program, Huntsville Schools calls SAFe, uses social media to search for warnings of potential violence and signs of gang activity.

Several students have reportedly been expelled based on the content of their social media postings, including some who were posing with handguns.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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