Cyber police or Big Brother? Kids irked by school's Twitter policy
BOTHELL, Wash. -- In between juggling classes and shuttling her brother to doctor appointments, Bothell High School senior Caprielle Jarvi also maintains her presence on social media.
"They think it's funny," she said of her friends, her Twitter account, and her 237 followers, who are often entertained by remarks about television shows or photos of her high school football team.
Not everyone's laughing, apparently. Jarvi was recently called into a meeting with school administrators, she said, after they saw her tweet about another high school's band.
"It was all light-hearted," she said. "(But) basically the administration scolded me and told me I was supposed to be a representation of our school. They brought up the code of conduct that we signed."
The Northshore School District does have a student code of conduct, along with a handbook, and while the document doesn't have an explicit policy on social media it does have general guidelines about Internet usage.
The policy "prohibits the misuse or inappropriate use of technology (including web sites and email) that interferes with or disrupts the educational process. The inappropriate use of electronic communication, whether initiated at school or not, that violates district policies against harassment, discrimination, intimidation and bullying is not permitted," it reads.
"I don't think what I had said was violating anything in the code I had signed," Jarvi said. "And now I feel like I can't tweet without feeling like there's someone watching me or monitoring what I'm saying."
Jarvi changed her Twitter profile from public to private after the incident, but a number of students at Bothell High School say they went through similar experiences. Some described being called into an administrator's office and asked to tattle on fellow classmates. One student says he was asked to "rat out" another.
"It's become their mission almost - it feels like to some students - to monitor what students are doing inside of school and outside of school," said James Allsup, a Bothell High School senior, who says he has had a number of friends called into meetings. "They're asking some students to tell on their classmates."
The district does not regularly monitor students' social media accounts, said district communications director Leanna Albrecht, but will investigate "if an issue is brought to our attention." The district has asked for access to private, password-protected accounts in the past, she said. Administrators can also ask a student to hand over a password "but (our director of student services) is not aware of us ever doing that," Albrecht said.
Albrecht said concerns about cyberbullying and harassment have surrounded these investigations in the past.
"If there's something that disrupts the educational process, we as a district follow any state and federal guidelines in insuring that we take appropriate action. We will not violate any state or federal laws or district policy regarding any monitoring of social media accounts," she said.
Albrecht added that the district recently had an issue with fake teacher Twitter accounts created by students. It concerned staff so much they filed police reports, although she could not provide more information beyond that.
Allsup said he's heard too many stories about the district crossing the line, so late last week he started an online petition on change.org, asking the district to review its policies and back down.
"They could be doing a better job with the resources that the taxpayers provide them with instead of acting as a cyber police," he added.
As of Wednesday night, the petition had more than 250 signatures, including Jarvi's.
"I'm all for anti-bullying, but what's being said is not offending or directly hurting anybody," Jarvi said. "I'm hoping that this changes something."