MSNBC: School officials’ Facebook rummaging prompts mom’s privacy crusade

19 05 2012

The school where I currently work had an incident recently that culminated in a fight that sent one student to the hospital and led to multiple expulsions. What lead up to this altercation? Threats, bullying, rumor-mongering, and other assorted trash-talk… mostly on FaceBook. It’s a huge challenge for school administrators to deal with behavior that occurs off-campus, and especially online. Students — and often parents — have the attitude that, if it happens off campus, it’s none of the school’s business. Well, when the off-campus and online activities lead directly to on-campus issues, it is absolutely the school’s business.


The following article discusses a parent taking action against a school that she claims has a regular habit of demanding students turn over their FaceBook passwords to administrators, and are known to occasionally rummage through students’ personal information looking for dirt.


I have a hard time believing it. Well, I know there are rogue administrators out there that will abuse their authority and abuse their power. Sure. But it looks like the school’s policy is very straightforward, and their standard operating procedure for dealing with online issues is very sound and typical of how most schools deal with these sorts of issues, at least in my experience.

So, yeah. I’m a bit cynical about this article, but it definitely warrants reading and discussing

– dEV

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By Bob Sullivan
MSNBC Red Tape Chronicles

A mother who says her middle-school daughter was forced to let school officials browse the 13-year-old girl’s private Facebook page is speaking out against the practice because, she says, “other parents are scared to talk about it.”

Pam Broviak, who lives in the Chicago suburb of Geneva, Ill., says her daughter was traumatized when the principal of Geneva Middle School South forced the child to log in to her Facebook account, then rummaged through the girl’s private information.

“What a violation of my daughter’s privacy this whole episode was,” Broviak said. The incident took “a huge toll on my daughter, who ended up crying through most of the rest of the day and therefore missed most of her classes. She was embarrassed and very upset.”

There have been several descriptions lately of Facebook prying by schools – and one lawsuit was filed recently by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of an anonymous plaintiff against a school district that allegedly demanded a student’s social media passwords. But Broviak may be the first parent to go public with concerns about what she sees as serious violations of student privacy.

In a conversation with, Broviak said she confronted school officials about the incident involving her daughter soon after it occurred last fall and was told that they routinely investigate student issues by asking kids to log into their social networking pages — or cellphones — in the presence of administrators. And she said her daughter and other students told her they are frequently called into the principal’s office and told that they can’t leave until they surrender their passwords or unlock their phones and allow school officials to browse their personal information.

“(Students) let them see the accounts because otherwise, they are not allowed to leave the room. And that is just wrong,” she said.

Kent Mutchler, superintendent of Geneva schools, said in an interview with that he couldn’t comment on Broviak’s daughter because privacy rules prevent him from publicly discussing an individual student’s situation. But he said Broviak’s description of district policy is inaccurate.

“We would never demand someone’s password. When you have someone’s password, you open yourself up to other issues,” Mutchler said. “But if we have a disruptive situation, a school (official) will ask to see the page, and if the student refuses, we call the parents.”

But principals only request access to students’ social media pages under extreme circumstances, Mutchler said.

“There are different levels of concern. If there is a drug trafficking suspicion, we’ll get the police involved. If it’s something like cyberbullying, we’ll say, ‘This has been reported to us,’ and ask to see the page,” he said.

Often, students volunteer before they are even asked, he said.

“We ask, ‘Is there something you want to show us?’ that sort of thing. And they volunteer,” he said.

Such incidents are very rare among district middle schools, he said, contradicting Broviak’s assertion that the inspections are commonplace.

“It happens a half-dozen to a dozen times per year,” he said.

Broviak’s public complaint comes at a time when schools, employers and lawmakers around the country are wrestling with sticky privacy issues surrounding social networks. The state Legislature in Illinois is considering legislation that would make it illegal for employers to demand access to workers’ or applicants’ private social media information. That law is silent on the issue of schools and social media snooping, but federal legislation introduced last month by Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., would extend the protections to students, too.

(Full Story)




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