Securing safety?

The ICCSD has secured funding from the Department of Justice in order to potentially monitor students’ social media accounts.

Ella Rosenthal

As technology has become more prevalent, security monitoring has increased, and people’s sense of privacy has gone down. Schools are no exception to this trend. Since West has opened, the administration has added security cameras and began locking doors. Now, the ICCSD is looking into yet another safety measure on students: social media monitoring.

Chromebooks, given to each student beginning in 2017, were installed with Securly, an application which monitors students search history and gives parents the option to supervise and further restrict usage. Additionally, the district is able to monitor students’ school Google accounts when using district-issued technology.

This year, the district has decided that the need for security monitoring goes beyond school property. The ICCSD has decided to investigate the prospect of monitoring students’ social media in light of national violence trends. According to CNN, there has been an average of one school shooting per week in 2019.

Most of the time before there is some sort of a major event, or crisis event, there’s something that’s happened on social media

— Matt Degner, Assistant Superintendent

“Most of the time before there is some sort of a major event, or crisis event, there’s something that’s happened on social media,” said Matt Degner, Assistant Superintendent of the ICCSD.

The $187,000 grant will cover 75% of costs, but the ICCSD will have to finance the rest. With this money, the district hopes to eliminate any potential emergency situation before it occurs by monitoring students’ social media accounts that are attached to a school email. By filtering posts, they hope to identify “alarming messages,” which are defined as containing violent language and a reference to a school facility, in order to address the problem before it becomes a serious issue. 

“[If] somebody was going to commit harm to themselves or to other people, those are the things we’re looking for,” Degner said. “We’re not looking for just regular conflict between two students or between a group of friends.” 

In addition to blocking entrances and requiring student ID’s for entry, social media monitoring is a significant part of a larger plan to improve school security across the district. This could help to reduce the 60 violent incidents that were reported to the police in the ICCSD during the 2017-2018 school year.

Ella Rosenthal

The majority of the grant money will be allocated towards establishing a position known as the Crisis Response Coordinator. Their basic responsibilities will be to oversee the creation of a crisis response program and promote cooperation between staff members throughout the district in case of an emergency.

The school board is also working to determine what software system they will implement. Lakeview, a school district in Battle Creek, Michigan, has already adopted social media monitoring.

Lakeview has been monitoring students’ public social media on all platforms for the past two years through a company called ZeroFOX. 

The company looks at public accounts within the school district’s proximity and screens for keywords that may indicate malicious intent.

“I’ll be honest, it doesn’t hit on things very often,” said Blake Prewitt, Superintendent of the Lakeview School District. “But every now and then there is something.” 

According to Prewitt, the program has prevented a few potential violent incidents and generally gives people ease of mind.

“I know for some of the parents, they appreciate it and feel that it’s doing a good job helping us keep safe,” Prewitt said

Despite the promised prevention of violent attacks that have plagued schools all across the nation, many have concerns about the privacy of students. Following a Press-Citizen article regarding the new policy, there were multiple Facebook comments expressing concern. 

“I wouldn’t say we’ve heard substantial backlash,” Degner said. “I would say the potential for that is there, and I think that’s why we need to make sure we’re open and transparent about what we’re doing.”

Ella Rosenthal

There is a range of student perspectives on the potential policy within the student body.

According to Lillian Montilla ‘21, social media monitoring could be a necessary next step in advancing school safety. She believes that monitoring students’ posts is acceptable, but that a line should be drawn at sifting through students private messages.

 “It is somewhat of an invasion of privacy,” Montilla said.  “But if it can prevent certain things from happening it could be worth it.” 

However, Claire Moira ‘22 worries this new policy could be an infringement on students’ privacy.

Our social media is something personal to us outside of school. Although the things we share online are not private, they are also not meant to go directly to administrators

— Claire Moira '22

 “Our social media is something personal to us outside of school. Although the things we share online are not private, they are also not meant to go directly to administrators,” Moira said. “If a student is having problems relating to social media, someone can report them and they can get monitored but there is no reason for everyone’s privacy to be invaded like that.” 

According to Degner, it is important that the community gives input on their views in order to ensure a positive outcome, although any change would need to be approved by the granting organization.

“We haven’t had a conversation on it either. And I think that’ s part of our job to do,” Degner said. “Because we’ve heard some [opinions], and I think anytime you hear some there’s probably more opinions out there that we’re not hearing from.”