By Jason KUROSU
As school districts collect more data on the social media activities of middle and high school students, a new bill signed by Governor Brown and authored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto will ensure that parents and students are informed of what districts are reviewing and that any information collected will be destroyed after students graduate.
AB 1442 was signed into law on Sept. 29, creating new privacy standards regarding schools’ monitoring of social media activities. Some school districts maintain that such monitoring will allow the ensured safety of the student population, especially in the case of violent, dangerous or suicidal feelings communicated by students via social media.
The new law will notify parents and guardians when their child’s school has entered into a social media monitoring program, as well as provide students with access to any information gathered on them by the school district and third party monitoring service. Students will be allowed to edit or delete any information collected regarding their social media activities and any such information will be destroyed within one year of a student’s graduation or 18th birthday.
“Schools have always played an important role in keeping our children safe, but with recent technological developments, they now can reach far into children’s personal lives without asking parents,” said Assemblymember Gatto. “When taxpayer dollars are being used by a government agency to monitor minors, parents and the public have a right to know what the data is being used for, and how long it will be stored. As younger generations increasingly communicate via social media, it is essential that we provide schools the tools to keep campuses safe, but also ensure that people have the right to know under what circumstances the government is collecting and storing personal data.”
The Glendale Unified School District recently renewed a contract with monitoring service Geo Listening, which has provided the district with information on student activity since January 2013. Expanding from a pilot program monitoring three high schools to the current monitoring of nine middle and high schools, Geo Listening’s renewal was approved at the Aug. 12 GUSD board of education meeting.
“This information was incredibly important to us to provide critical interventions in a timely manner for some students who were expressing self-harming behaviors,” said Dr. Kelly King, GUSD assistant superintendent of Educational Services at the meeting.
King provided the board with a report detailing the violations identified and investigated from the 2013-14 school year. Most of the violations were found to be minor when investigated, attributed to “adolescent humor.” But the report also detailed 330 violations regarding student privacy/safety, 157 regarding bullying, 93 regarding physical violence and 20 regarding suicide/despair.
King said that the notifications, which Geo Listening provided school administrators in daily reports, aided in a number of cases “in a very timely manner.” King also said that Geo Listening monitors information for certain keywords and only investigates further into a student’s activities in the presence of those keywords. The report also states that in compliance with AB 1442, “GUSD does not store data collected by Geo Listening unless documentation is necessary for disciplinary or intervention purposes. In those instances, parents and students are informed.”
The school board unanimously approved the renewal on the grounds that it could prevent cyber-bullying, allow the district to intervene in the case of suicide threats and also allow students to understand how posts on social media can affect their public image both now and in the future.
AB 1442 passed the assembly with a unanimous 76-0 vote.