Tag Archives: OCPS

School Safety or Big Brother?

On April 6, 2015, Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) contracted with Texas computer security service, Snaptrends to monitor social-media messages posted from school campuses, from students or staff.  Snaptrend’s website reads: “Pioneering Location-Based Social Media Discovery – Cut through the noise of social chatter and quickly identify actionable insights.”

In response, Manatee County Attorney, Scott Martin has published a thoughtful and compelling article on his law firm’s blog. The original post can be found here.

He writes:

Big Brother or School Safety? District Monitoring of Social Media Sites

Florida’s Orange County School District recently announced that it will utilize automated software to monitor the social media pages of staff and students – sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The ostensible reason for this broadscale monitoring is “to proactively prevent, intervene and monitor situations that may impact students and staff.”

Orange County is apparently following a recent trend of law enforcement agencies who use this type of software to detect and prevent crime. However, I see a number of troubling issues with this approach in the context of a school district.

It’s one thing for a District to access the social media pages of staff and students as a tool to address an existing problem or specific complaint. Checking specific students’ social media pages might be an appropriate course in, for example, a District investigation into online bullying. A District might also be justified in checking an employee’s social media pages in an investigation into whether an employee improperly used sick leave on a particular day. (Free Legal Advice: Posting a Facebook picture of you on vacation on days when you called in sick is a very bad idea.).

However, Snaptrends is a type of social media scraper/aggregator that collects social media information in mass. The data are scooped up by an automated process without regard to the nature of the content – good, bad, or indifferent. The information collected is then analyzed according to parameters set by the District and made available to the District for review and further drill-down. Evidently, the data can in many instances be mapped to show exactly where the information originated.

The intent here is for the District to arm itself with information to prevent an issue before it becomes a problem. In the context of imminent harm to student safety, that makes much sense. One can hardly argue against a District doing whatever is necessary to prevent something on the scale of a school shooting. One can also see reason in using social media metadata (not personally identifiable data) to help Districts with resource allocation to combat major social issues like teen pregnancy, gang association, or illegal drug use.

But what guarantees are there that the social media information collected by the District will be limited to those benevolent purposes? What policies are in place? Who can access the data? What conclusions are being drawn from the data? Who is drawing those conclusions? What standards are they using in making decisions based on captured data? These are all questions that should be answered to the public’s satisfaction before any such tool is put in place.

I also question the privacy implications of use of such a tool. What if social media chatter suggests that two teachers went on vacation together? Or that a principal is gay? Or that a student owns a gun? All of the aforementioned activity is perfectly legal and should not in itself result in any intervention by the District. However, Districts may use the information provided by Snaptrends to bootstrap into further invasion of privacy.

The District might, for example, use these benign comments as justification for a formal investigation to determine whether there’s a “larger problem” under the surface. Our vacationing teachers could be having extramarital affairs. Maybe our gay principal is interested in sex with minors. Maybe our student owns an assault rifle. We won’t know unless the District formally investigates, right?

Even more insidious, the District might create a “watch list” of potentially problematic staff and students who will be subjected to more intense monitoring going forward. A District would do well to avoid this type of McCarthyism and invitation to challenges based on the chilling of constitutional rights. Guarantees against this sort of policing should be made crystal clear in a written District policy.

Also, I can’t help but wonder whether Snaptrends appreciates that contracting with a Florida state agency subjects it to Florida’s laws regarding public records. Any information it collects that meets the definition of “public record” will now be accessible by any member of the public unless it falls under a statutory exemption. Since these data are being collected in connection with the District’s official business, it appears to me that the definition of public record is met. I suspect that any such request would be met with resistance based on “trade secret” or “security” exemptions provided under Florida law. Either way, I predict lawsuits in the near future.

Finally, staff and students of Orange County Schools should educate themselves regarding Snaptrends’ “Social Media Content Privacy Policy” which is available on the Snaptrends website. It states that any person who feels their social media information has been improperly acquired can request its deletion. Whether information has been improperly acquired will depend on the circumstances of each situation, and will likely turn on whether the information was posted by the user for public view. However, it could also turn on whether Snaptrends’ acquisition of the information violated the social media site’s terms of service. Facebook, for example, has terms that prevent automated data collection unless expressly approved in writing by Facebook. Has Snaptrends fully complied with the rules of each social media site it scrapes? We will see.

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Serious questions are being asked by concerned parents and teachers in Orange County now.  

Opt Out Orlando’s Cindy Hamilton will address these questions and more with the OCPS board at the June 9 school board meeting.  If this is a concern for you, you should plan to attend.

Tuesday, June 9 at 4:30PM
Edgewater High School (Map/Directions)
3100 Edgewater Drive
Orlando, FL 32804
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These links may be of interest to you:

Mar 18 2015: Pearson admits to monitoring students’ social media use during its online tests – The Guardian

Nov 26 2014: Should Schools Monitor Students’ Social Media Use? – Insurance Journal

Oct 17 2014:  Southern Poverty Law Center entering fray over Huntsville school district’s social media monitoring – AL.com

Sep 9 2014:   Mark Cuban: Stop Making This Mistake on Social Media | Inc. Media – Mark Cuban

Oct 2 2013:    Students in social media: There’s monitoring & then there’s monitoring – ConnectSafely.org

Sep 12 2013:  Should schools monitor kids on social media? – HLNTV.com


Adult Business…On The Backs Of 8 Year Olds

Florida schools will begin administering the FSA on Monday, March 2… The pressure is on to assure the data is collected at all costs.

Last week, the Florida Department of Education (FL DOE) handed down instructions for handling opt outs to districts: OCPS Parent Notification Letter

A handful of districts have chosen to be respectful of parents’ choice to refuse the FSA this year… others have not.  Seminole County has been courageous in this regard and issued a comprehensive
FSA Question and Answer Guide.

Seminole FSA QA

In the absence of the “whole truth” from the DOE, this clarification has been needed to quell the confusion and fear-mongering that was so cunningly targeted at parents and teachers. Seminole County’s Guide was the first bit of truth to come out of any district since the commissioner issued her chilling letter. Parents across the state have been asking the same of their districts.  So far, only Brevard, Hillsborough, Lee, and Polk Counties have joined Seminole County in similarly supporting children and families statewide. We are grateful for this demonstration of true leadership.

On Thursday, however, when asked by a TV reporter for her position on choice testing in Orange County, Supt. Barbara Jenkins responded,

“We are hopeful that parents won’t have children’s educational careers at risk over this adult issue, so we have no provision for opting out.”

She was, at the time, accepting a check for $10.3 Million from Gov. Rick Scott for the state’s School Recognition Program, awarded based on last year’s test scores. That statement protects the state’s interests, not our children’s.  To this, we say:

“WE, in the opt out movement, are no longer confident that our children’s well-being is the state’s priority over these adult issues, and have therefore sought and found provisions for opting out.  We refuse to continue to fuel the testing machine with our children’s data.  WE WANT OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS  BACK AND WE ARE DONE.”

On Friday, Supt. Jenkins underscored the district’s position by sending this e-mail to parents. But that was not enough. The message also went out as a robo-call and in text messages, all in the space of an hour. Supt. Jenkins is Florida’s 2013 District Data Leader of the Year. Her message is clear. We want the data… and we will have it.

Jenkins E-mail 022715

As a parent, I am embarrassed and ashamed that these statements represent my school district.

What greater “undue burden” has any parent placed on our children, as young as eight years old, than the state’s burden of excessive high-stakes testing to harvest data, to secure school funding, and to threaten job security for teachers? THESE ISSUES are the real adult issues. The mandates, policies, rules, and statutes attaching the highest stakes to testing have already been forced upon the backs of our children by punitive federal and state laws, and are implemented and enforced by school districts.

The Superintendent is correct when she states that there is no option to opt out of the FSA. Opting Out has never been an option, and it is still not an “option”. No parent or student is asking for permission to opt out of the test. It has always been a parent’s and a student’s RIGHT to do so. Parents and students can still make that choice, regardless of the Commissioner’s letter.

What can you do to protect your child from having to bear such a burden?

Your parental mandate to protect the well-being of your child morally supersedes any law of the land to provide “accountability” to the powers that be. You can refuse to go along without question simply because it is mandated.

When parents make the decision for their child to opt out, some express fear or hesitation, others tell us they have been repudiated, over placing the burden of opting out on young children, such as Supt. Jenkins implies repeatedly. The daily burden of excessive, punitive high stakes tests on children is a far greater burden for them to bear than refusing the test will ever be. This burden is not imposed by parents. Children are really on the front lines for matters that have nothing to do with their actual learning. They are there at the behest of the state, NOT parents. And you do not have to offer them up like little lambs.

When children, especially young children, are asked to bear the burden of performing on a single test, or else… in order to ensure their promotion, graduation, possible retention and/or remediation, whether their teacher’s contract is renewed, whether their school stays open, whether their school gets the right grade to ensure adequate funding, it is oppressive and abusive. There is no way that it cannot be. THESE are adult concerns and have no place in any child’s education. To allow children to participate in this farce is to condone and perpetuate these oppressive and abusive policies. High stakes testing distorts the relationship of trust between teachers and students.

Is the business of our school districts and schools to support our children in learning to love learning so that they can become curious, questioning, independent, engaged, productive and contributing citizens – in other words, whole human beings? Or is the state’s chief concern the implementation of state mandates, no matter the human cost?

Some have expressed concern that students who opt out harm their teachers and schools by denying test scores and data. Proper refusals do NOT count against teachers and schools. Furthermore, THIS is the very reason why we MUST refuse by opting out: we do not send our children to school for the purpose of providing data, with which to protect their teachers and schools. THIS is adult business.

Opting out is not easy. It is not an action parents choose without great consideration of all of the consequences. It is our last resort, in order to bring to bear the appropriate pressure on legislators to effect positive, meaningful, and lasting change to the laws governing public education.

Since last June, Opt Out Orlando has helped parents, teachers and former teachers to start their own local Opt Out groups in 26 separate districts across the state of Florida. In this way, parents and teachers have locked arms and have become empowered to address their specific concerns and to advocate for the children in their local communities.  We also advocate strongly for teachers. And we have organized thousands of parents and teachers, who work tirelessly in support of meaningful legislation, with which we hope to return authentic assessments and real accountability to public education in Florida.

It is our hope that as Monday looms large, that the Department of Education will provide guidance to all districts, with which to respectfully deal with families who choose to refuse these tests on moral grounds.

If school districts continue to put the admittedly unreasonable and illegitimate demands of the state above the welfare of our children, this grassroots movement will continue to grow. Since Supt. Jenkins’ campaign of intimidation yesterday, we have been VERY busy approving all the new parents requesting to join Opt Out Orlando.

Until we have multiple measures of authentic assessments to guide our children’s education, that do not threaten and punish children, teachers and schools, we will continue to refuse these high stakes tests, and we will continue to grow this movement.

Tweet: bit.ly/AdultBiz

NOTE:  It is important to note here that although Polk County has issued virtually the same policy for children and testing and test refusals as Seminole County, they have sent the most threatening directive to teachers – threatening them for not reporting POTENTIAL opt outs, of which they may be aware.  This is blatant intimidation and it is unconscionable.

Links to Resources:

REFUSE THE FSA in 3 Easy Steps

Opt Out Orlando’s Open Letter to the Florida House and Senate –
Feb 19 2015

Opt Out Documents

Opt Out Groups by District

Why You Can Boycott Standardized Tests Without Fear of Federal Penalties to Your School

FairTest – List of 850+ test optional colleges

What Opt Out Is NOT


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