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School Staff Can Now Probe Social Media for Online Threats

The security coordinator for the Howard County Public School System said each school will have the capacity to look into Facebook, Twitter situations.

As school starts in Howard County, so does a new program to investigate online threats to students.

Kevin Burnett, coordinator of security for the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS), said that a staff member at each school has been authorized to look into potential situations arising out of social media.

Previously, all staff at HCPSS institutions were firewalled from using social media sites, said Burnett.

“If there’s a rumor that something is on Facebook or Twitter, that security officer is going to have bypass access to pull that information up and conduct an investigation,” said Burnett in a phone interview with Patch.

“That’s relatively new based on a meeting last year at Howard [High]," said Burnett.

He was referencing an anti-bullying forum that Ravens running back  at  last May after Glenelg student Grace McComas, 15, and student Eugene Swen, 16, committed suicide in less than two weeks, in two separate incidents.

The parents of McComas said that she “was harassed online for months,” according to The Baltimore Sun.

"When we do hear rumors like threats…we get the police department involved right away," said Burnett. "We’ve been talking about this Facebook thing for a long time," said Burnett of having a staff person authorized to access the social media sites on campus.

Renee Foose, the new superintendent for HCPSS, said the school system is taking bullying very seriously.

“We put a heavy emphasis on anti-bullying initiatives,” said Foose in an email to Patch.

Last week, before school started, student services staff had training focused on eliminating bullying, said Foose, who noted students are part of the solution as well.

“Students are encouraged to anonymously report suspicious behavior or postings on social media,” said Foose.

In the event of a dangerous situation, schools have emergency response plans that they update each year, said Foose, noting that staff is trained in emergency lockdown situations.

“We are terribly saddened by the incident that occurred at Perry Hall High School yesterday. Based on media reports, it appears the school staff responded swiftly, which may have saved lives,” said Foose.

"A guidance counselor at Perry Hall High School subdued a 15-year-old student who shot another student Monday, according to , which reported that investigators do not believe bullying was a factor. 

After the , which occurred Monday morning, Howard County police and school security teams communicated about the shooting."

“We were in contact with our school resource officers to get an idea if there’s something we should be looking out for in those situations,” said Burnett. 

Added Burnett: “It’s hard to prevent a tragedy, but if we can do everything we can, that’s what we’re going to do."

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Christine McComas August 31, 2012 at 07:33 PM
It is a step in the right direction that this change was made. When we, bully-cide victim Grace McComas' parents originally approached the school with the malicious and vile 'tweets' her bully had made, we were told that since they happened outside of school there was nothing to be done. Later, when they continued and clearly affected her in school, we requested that the school resource officer (HCPD) verify them, but he could not look at them. In your article Mr. Burnett is quoted as saying "we get the police involved right away". That may be true for threats of violence in the school, but not for threats to individuals....
Christine McComas August 31, 2012 at 07:42 PM
..... The police have the threatening 'tweets' in our case. Their malicious and vile nature stand on their own... and although they were 'tweeted' to hundreds, and shared by many more, (inc. Grace) the law apparently looks at them as if it was a private conversation in a room into which Grace was not invited. The criminal investigation is supposedly complete, and under review, yet somehow not one person/witness was interviewed. Why? How could possible charges of harassment, bullying, or intimidation be explored without this? It appears that the police only thoroughly investigate that which the office of the States Attorney says they should. It would make more sense to investigate, and then let a jury to decide. Especially since early nasty 'tweets' were shared with the office of the states attorney too last October, as they were presented in court and we requested that they stop, (as part of the young man's probation on a separate charge). We were told they would. NO ONE ever followed up, until we looked in January... yet the bully was never made to apologize nor any consequence given. Clearly Mr. Broccolino and his assistant attorneys do not have a grasp of how digital media affects our youth.... of it's invasive and pervasive nature. The ignorance of this issue has taken a deadly toll. One we will sadly continue to pay for the rest of our lives.
Patrick H. August 31, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Having one staff member and a voluntary referal service hasn't worked for other schools in the past. Unless the school district is going to adopt a zero tolerance policy and unless they are going to make the reporting of threats mandatory this new policy will only go to give a false sene of security to parents who usually don't talk to their children enough as it is. On-line threats should be, and are, an issue for police investigation and not an in school guidance counselor issue. Mr. Burnett should review his statements and be more forthcoming with the facts.
Lisa Rossi (Editor) August 31, 2012 at 09:05 PM
DontWorryAboutIt 's comments contained profanity and were removed because they violated Patch's terms of use.
DontWorryAboutIt August 31, 2012 at 09:09 PM
If you bein bullied dont run yo mouth if thats not the case catch em off guard aint mamma ever teach you that "The Quiet Ones are the people you gotta watch for" RNS
Tara Capino September 01, 2012 at 12:39 AM
New laws need to be written to address the issues that have been brought about with the new technology and social media. I dont know what the laws of Maryland are regarding any of this, or if there are any specefically that deal with the implications of the public nature of harassment that is now possible and happening with such tragic end results. My deepest sympathy to the McCommas family. I hope some new legislation is proposed to adequately address these issues so this never happens to another young person.
Jasmine September 21, 2012 at 04:29 AM
Why was the girl allowed to see the tweets? shouldn't someone have been monitoring her if she was in a bad place? Why is this one kid getting blamed? Is there a name? people use twitter to tweet about anything and everything. The majority of tweets i have seen seem taken out of context? You can make any tweet applicable to this situation.. ie. if this person was mad at a friend or family member. To blame someone for someone elses choice to take their life is disgusting. This kid didn't make her do anything. SHE DID IT. It was HER choice to do what she did. Why is a closed juvenile case being discussed online? I'm not trying to attack. After reading some articles there's just a lot of unanswered questions and confusion on my part. You've been saying justice needs to be served, i don't see any justice needed in this situation.
Christine McComas October 08, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Jasmine, You are correct. She DID take her life, but to call it a 'choice' I think is incorrect. I used to think that suicide was a selfish choice, but now have a better understanding of it. We have come to believe that it's not so much that someone seeks to end their life, but are simply trying to stop the pain. I walked that dark valley with my daughter and I know how she suffered. I believe you are closer to the situation than you suggest. You know the name and you know only some of the story. Even if I am wrong on this point, surely you are not suggesting that verbage like "Snitches should have their fingers cut off one by one while they watch their families burn" can be understood as o.k in ANY context.?? And as for 'why was she allowed to see the tweets?': Teenagers don't have to 'see' inflamatory, ugly and vile tweets made about them; they quickly hear about them from others, as you surely know. Justice and understanding IS needed in this situation to prevent further tragedy. Whether it happens in this life remains to be seen, but it will happen.

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