Alabama school district paid ex-FBI agent to monitor students on social media

by Vins

In 2013, the Huntsville City School District paid an ex-FBI agent, Chris McRae, $157,000 to monitor the social media activity of its 24,000 students. The effort, part of a program called SAFe (Students Against Fear), aimed to improve security. Through SAFe students and faculty would file anonymous tips to McRae, who would look through their social media accounts for any suspicious material. Many feel that the security program was a violation of studentsā€™ rights.

On October 30, Huntsville City Schools provided records showing that 78 percent of the 305 expulsions last year involved black students, in a district where just 40 percent of students are black. Expulsions related to social media investigations through the SAFe program were a small part of that total. Of those 14 expulsions related to SAFe, 86 percent involved black students. Although Laurie McCaulley, the only black person serving on the cityā€™s school board, denied any racial motivations in the expulsions, critics have taken the disproportionate number of expulsions as evidence of racial discrimination. Madison County Commissioner Bob Harrison said the numbers suggest the system is targeting social media activities of black children. “That is effectively targeting or profiling black children in terms of behavior and behavioral issues,” said Harrison.

Sources:

Challen Stephens, “Huntsville Schools Paid $157,000 for Former FBI Agent, Social Media Monitoring Led to 14 Expulsions,” AL.com, November 1, 2014, http://www.al.com/news/huntsville/index.ssf/2014/11/huntsville_schools_paid_157100.html.

Joanna Rothkopf, “Alabama School District Paid an Ex-FBI Agent $157K to Monitor Students on Social Media, ” Salon, November 18, 2014, http://www.salon.com/2014/11/03/alabama_school_district_paid_an_ex_fbi_agent_157k_to_monitor_students_on_social_media/.

Katie Zavadski, “Alabama School District Hired an Ex-FBI Agent to Monitor Students on Social Media,” New York Magazine, November 3, 2014, http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/11/alabama-schools-hired-ex-fbi-to-monitor-students.html.

Scott Kaufman, ā€œAlabama school system paid former FBI agent $157,000 to spy on black students,ā€ RawStory, November 2, 2014, http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/11/alabama-school-system-paid-former-fbi-agent-157000-to-spy-on-black-students-critics/.

Student Researcher: Yesenia Valencia (Sonoma State University) and Rachael Tiamiyu (Indian River State College)
Faculty Evaluator: Suzel A. Bozada- Deas (Sonoma State University) and Elliot D. Cohen (Indian River State College)