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AL: Huntsville schools paid ex-FBI agent to monitor student social media accounts

Huntsville, Alabama schools paid an ex-FBI agent $157,000 to oversee a number of security reforms, which included monitoring and spying on the social media accounts of the district’s students.

According to records, only 14 students have been expelled so far due to these efforts—but of those students, 12 were black. According to AL.com, Madison County Commissioner Bob Harrison said “that is effectively targeting or profiling black children in terms of behavior and behavioral issues.” The local school board’s sole black board member, Laurie McCaulley, blamed these expulsions on disciplinary issues and said, in speaking to AL.com, that “What I think the board is doing is trying to provide a safe environment for all children.”

These efforts, known as the Students Against Fear or SAFe Program, are operated by former FBI agent Chris McRae. This program was originally uncovered by AL.com, and documents they procured in September showed that system security personnel, working through the program, investigated 600 of 24,000 students in the city since January.  These investigations focused on signs of gang affiliation, guns, and other indicators of violent or criminal activity.

The school district also has a contract with T&W Operations, the firm that employs McRae and others involved in other parts of Huntsville’s security operations. This firm has not just been involved with schools, however.

Jeannee Gannuch, co-founder of the South Huntsville Civics Association, was on occasion known to criticize city officials. After AL.com revealed the SAFe program, she noticed T&W following her on Facebook. She told AL.com that “My tax dollars are paying for a hired hand to watch a political organization? That doesn’t seem right.”

The ACLU told AL.com back in September that they had yet to hear back about an open records request they had filed in June. The legal director of their Alabama branch, Randall Marshall, said “We are pursuing this issue by a public records request to the Huntsville City Schools to gather more information about its practices. They have yet to respond and if they continue to ignore our requests, we may have to take legal action to obtain the records.”

In September, AL.com broke the story. Huntsville Superintendent Dr. Casey Wardynski said at the time that the NSA had called him a year and half before the article was written. The NSA said at the time that “The National Security Agency has no record that it passed any information to the Huntsville school district, and the description of what supposedly occurred is inconsistent with NSA’s practices.”

Featured image from Shutterstock

Brad Matthews

Brad Matthews is the Digital Content Coordinator intern for Watchdog Wire. Twitter is @bradmatthewsDC

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Categories: Education, Privacy, Waste, Fraud and Abuse

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