Huntsville City Schools (HCS) paid a former Federal Bureau of Investigations agent $157,000 to direct security last year, but critics contend that the system he implemented is designed to monitor the social media activity of black students, according to AL.com.
Chris McRae, the agent in question, was brought in to oversee the Students Against Fear (SAFe) program, which works by allowing students and teachers to provide anonymous tips to security personnel, who then scour social media sites like Facebook to determine the credibility of the threat.
Over 600 Huntsville City School students had their social media presence monitored last year. Of the students expelled last year for reasons related to social media, 86 percent were African-American. The school system as a whole is 40 percent black — but 78 percent of all students expelled are black.
Madison County Commissioner Bob Harrison said that the policy “is effectively targeting or profiling black children in terms of behavior and behavioral issues.”
Last month, Superintendent Casey Wardynski told AL.com that “our SAFe program is really about bringing information together. Often we’ll find on Facebook things going on right now, kids are posting from inside school or on Twitter. Here’s a kid with a pistol on Facebook. These are his buddies, each with a gun. We’re instantly interested in that.”
“This isn’t like folks are going out looking at everybody’s Facebook and working our way back to, ‘Should we be interested in them?'” he insisted. “It is, ‘We’re interested in this guy, what’s he up to? Is he in school today? Let’s look at his social media.’ All you do is go to Facebook and YouTube and type in their name. If you find out they are doing something in real time or those other people look like they’re doing nefarious things, they can be a threat.”
McRae and the others involved in running the SAFe program do not work directly for the school system — instead, they are employed by T&W Operations. According to paperwork provided by the system, “McRae provides security training, along with reviewing security features at Huntsville facilities both existing and those under construction. He recommends enhancements and improvements and works with HCS security staff on tips that are referred to the District office.”
However, after news of SAFe’s relation to T&W Operations, many critics of the city noticed that their groups were being monitored by it. Jeannee Gannuch, co-founder of the South Huntsville Civic Association, which is often critical of the city, discovered that T&W Operations was following her group on Facebook.
“My tax dollars are paying for a hired hand to watch a political organization? That doesn’t seem right,” she told AL.com.