There are no prying eyes, yet

Sarah Caporelli, Print Sub-editor

Every year the newspaper staff and yearbook staff take a trip to the national journalism convention held this year in Washington D.C. After the trip, the staff came home in November with stories from the seminars that they attended. The seminars at convention have speakers that tell stories, give tips and provide direction in all types of subjects.

Talk of private companies that looked into student tweets in other schools around the country prompted  us  to investigate. Schools have hired private investigators, installed firewalls that pick up tweets by key words and employed companies that look through the student body’s twitter posts.

Laura Sprague, the Director of Communications, has not heard of any technology being used in Johnston and has no news that it will be implemented soon. “I find that interesting when you tell me this I don’t know if I agree with that,” Sprague said. Sprague had no prior knowledge of any technology used to track student tweets.

Senior Meredith Toebben agrees to having a system monitor as long as it is used for the right reasons. “I feel like its out of the classroom so there is nothing that they can legally do, but if it’s about the school or harm coming to anyone it’s their job to get involved,” Toebben said.

There is a gray area of whether or not the school should be allowed to punish students for actions or posts that happen outside of school hours. “The superintendent has his work hours, students have their school hours and then you have a life outside of that,” Sprague said.

So is it okay to punish people for after school-hour posts?

“If I saw a student on a Saturday night and it’s not school hours and something bad was going on, say they were intoxicated, I am mandated by law to report that to authorities and to the principal because that’s not safe for the students,” Sprague said. There are policies that have been put in place to keep students safe by mandating that teachers and school district workers report any suspicious or illegal activities that students are involved in.

The are very few rules used with dealing with social media and punishment and it is mostly based on ethics. “If a student is upset I don’t really feel like that’s our place to have anything to do with that,” Sprague said. “Anything that falls into the question of safety of other students themselves, the school or the district we do take that very seriously and we would follow up with that.”

The main rules dealing with social media concerns teacher and student etiquette.“District social media guideline states that its recommended that teachers do not follow students,” Sprague said. “If you’re a parent and you want to follow your children that’s okay it’s your kid it’s a little bit different, but if you’re following students to see what they’re up to that’s where that guideline comes into play.”

High schools around the nation are discovering that their twitter accounts are being watched. In Garrett, Indiana, senior Austin Carroll was expelled from school for a tweet with five expletives that was posted after school hours at around 2:30 a.m.

According to Carroll was expelled three months before the end of his senior year. Carroll had to attend an alternative school to get his diploma.

Controversy surrounds the incident debating whether the school was right or wrong. The most made argument is that the punishment was too harsh. The provides, “I totally didn’t agree with what Austin said but I didn’t agree with an expulsion either,” said Carroll’s mother. “I mean if they suspended him for 3 days or something, I would be fine with that but to kick him out of school, his senior year, 3 months to go, wrong.”

According to another occurrence in Huntsville, Alabama of monitoring high school student’s twitter accounts has been exposed. After a teachers life was threatened by a student on social media, and they caught the perpetrator with a knife, the school hired a former FBI agent to monitor posts on social media.

The efforts by the Huntsville City schools have resulted in 14 expulsions and the software they introduced helped the Glendale school district in suburban Los Angeles stop an attempted suicide.

Senior Hayley Dotseth agrees with the process the district follows. “Obviously if there are threatening things to the school I feel like they can interfere,” Dotseth said. “If it’s your own personal thoughts and you’re not hurting anyone they shouldn’t be able to take any action against you.”

Sprague runs the Johnston Community School District Twitter and Facebook accounts. “As far as I know we’re not looking or trolling your tweets to see if you’re up to no good,” Sprague said.

There have not been any instances that have resulted in expulsion based off social media posts here. At the moment, the only eyes prying into students’ accounts are tips from parents who see something they feel the school should be aware of.