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Cyberbullying: Should schools police students' social media accounts? (+video)

The Glendale, Calif., school district hired a firm to monitor students' social media accounts and prevent cyberbullying. Critics say it could chill student speech and lead to unintended legal consequences.

Glendale, Calif. hires cyberbully monitors
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The Glendale Unified School District in Glendale, Calif., finds itself under a national spotlight over its hiring of a firm to monitor its 14,000 students’ social media accounts.

In the wake of the suicide of 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick in Florida last Tuesday – reportedly after receiving taunting text messages from at least 15 girls – many cyberbullying experts are applauding the Glendale decision. But others say the Glendale Unified School District (GUSD), though well-meaning, is entering dangerous moral and legal ground. At least one online petition is out to stop it.

“We think it’s been working very well,” Superintendent Dick Sheehan told CNN of the policy. After two teens in the area committed suicide last year, including one in the Glendale district, the GUSD started a pilot program for 9,000 students in its three high schools. It went so well that they formally introduced it this year as school opened Sept. 12. “It’s designed around student safety and making sure kids are protected,” Mr. Sheehan said.

The GUSD is paying the Hermosa Beach-based firm, Geo Listening, $40,500 to track public postings, searching for such topics as possible truancy, drug use, suicide threats, bullying, and other violence. Only the postings of students aged 13 and older are monitored, because that is the legal age at which parental permission isn’t required.

But in hosts of local broadcasts and newspaper articles, parents and students are being interviewed who don’t think it is right.

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