Anyone said anything interesting today on Social Media? Nevermind, I’m sure that Wardynski and his SAFe Team headed by “Security Consultant” from T&W Operations Chris McRae knows when you are sleeping and awake . . .
So it seems that Huntsville City Schools, since at least January 2014 and possibly since as early as May 2013, has been quietly spying on Huntsville City Schools student activity on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit in a supposed effort to identify potential gang activity.
There’s been an active discussion of all of this on Facebook, AL.com, Twitter, and the news since Stephens’ story broke this morning. The school board members have had to answer questions of what they knew about the program and when (and they, as is typical, have about seven different answers – Blair and McCaulley both had two differing responses to what they knew when), and Wardynski even had to have an impromptu press conference on the steps of Merts this afternoon. (Mrs. McCaulley seems to believe that much of this is simply funny, judging by her grin when Wardynski began talking about our “brazen children.”)
Please go read and watch the reports that I’ve linked to. It seems that Robinson and Blair have strong opinions, not about the district spying on kids, but rather on the press letting people know that the district is spying on kids. Robinson believes that our children are “really bad people” who “want to do really bad things in our schools.” Blair believes that the only thing wrong about all of this is that the media actually published information about the district spying on our kids saying, “this kind of stuff puts kids in danger.”
That’s right, talking about adults spying on our kids, puts kids in danger.
But instead of pointing out, yet again, the inane way that Robinson, Blair, and McCaulley handle any situation like this, I think our time is better spent seeing what we can learn about Security Consultant McRae and his company T&W Operations.
T&W Operations: Inventory and Evidently Spying Specialists
McRae has evidently been tasked with setting up a program to read about 24,000 Facebook pages of students in the district. According to his LinkedIn Account, he began working as a “Consultant to the Huntsville City Schools Operations Directorate” with T&W Operations in January 2014. He has been “Contracted to assist the Huntsville City Schools create and organize a student anti-violence initiative.”
One problem with this is that it seems that McRae has been hired as a consultant to HCS without the benefit of a contract. Yep, that’s right, just like our hiring of LeanFROG, we’ve hired T&W Operations’ McRae to “create and organize a student anti-violence initiative” without any oversight, board-approval, or even a basic contract.
The district has, since 2012, had two contracts with T&W Operations. The first was approved by the board on August 16, 2012 to “conduct an inventory of all non-expendable property.” The total for that contract that expired in August 2013 was for $595,452.96.
Clearly it’s okay for us to know that T&W Operations can count. Evidently they were so good at counting, they were, in July 2013, hired to develop an inventory system known as the COLTS Hosting system for a total of $400,147.00.
So the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education has approved two contracts with T&W Operations over the past two years to conduct and build an inventory system for tracking district equipment. The total of both of the contracts is $995,599.96. The second contract for the COLTS Hosting System appears currently active.
So what’s the problem? Well the problem is that we’ve paid T&W Operations a total of $2,107,034.68 since August of 2012.
That means that we’ve written checks totaling $1,111,434.72 without a contract of any kind. Here is a list of the checks we’ve written to T&W Operations:
And therein lies the true problem.
Who Is Spying on the Spies?
It’s fairly clear from the Keystone Cops routine our board members were playing this afternoon, that if they had heard anything at all about the SAFe spying program, it was shared with them in passing and not in detail in say a public board meeting as required by state law. And since the superintendent has not brought a single recommendation to the board that is related to this program, the simple answer of who is spying on the spies is no one.
That’s right, it would seem that this spying program that may have cost us as much as $1,111,434.72 has not been overseen by anyone.
In June 2014, after receiving reports that the district was indeed spying on students, the ACLU wrote to Wardynski requesting information about this spying program. The letter requested this extensive information from the district within 30 days, or July 23, 2014. WAFF followed up the request with a request of their own for information about the program.
So far as has been made publicly available, neither the ACLU’s nor WAFF’s request has been honored.
One would think that the board members would have asked Wardynski about the spying program at that time, but it would seem that a couple of them were too busy running their campaigns for other offices, and the other three were evidently just not interested enough to ask.
Spying Far More Widespread Than Wardynski Admits To
So, what conclusions can we draw from this?
First, make your kids aware that every single thing that they put online can and will be held against them. Nothing that is posted online is private from anyone. I am convinced that the legal opinions that WAFF received concerning the privacy issues are probably correct. If you put the information online, you’d be better off posting it on a billboard. Fewer people would see it.
There are, of course, private records that the district is required to keep private, but these are being given away to companies like Pearson without parental consent. It’s hypocrisy in the extreme that McCaulley was concerned about FERPA violations today. The board and district is only concerned about violating FERPA when they aren’t the ones doing it.
Second, as there has been zero oversight of this program by the board members, there is absolutely no reason that we should believe Wardynski when he says that this program has only been used to spy on minors exhibiting gang related or violent activities. In fact, we would be incredibly stupid to believe that this program has not been used to spy on teachers, district employees, and troublemaking parents like myself as well.
(I know for a fact that Wardynski reads and has others read and follow everything I write on this blog. This was confirmed for me as far back as July 2011 when he was making threatening calls about my having written about a meeting I had with him a few days before the start of his first school year. At a time when he should have had a laser-like focus on getting school started, he was calling people to find out who I was, and why I would be upset that he didn’t know if the district would meet IEPs or not. His pattern of snooping and probably creating an “enemies list” is not new.)
Third, this district is in the habit of paying private contractors exorbitant funds to do whatever the superintendent wishes without any documentation, contracts, or board approval.
One has to wonder about that final point. This board has approved every single recommendation the superintendent has ever brought to them. Every single one. There has, in fact only been about four recommendations that weren’t supported unanimously. There was, in other words, no reason why the board needed to be kept in the dark about this latest expenditure.
And it leaves us wondering: how many other millions of dollars is the superintendent expending without anyone’s knowledge? And how many other companies is he selling private student information to?
It’s, as I’ve said many times before, far past time for Wardynski to resign.