Schools in the state now have the authority to search their students’ social media accounts and Thornton Fractional Township High School District 215 hopes to use that information to stop violence before it starts.
On Tuesday, the District 215 School Board will vote on a policy allowing them to demand passwords and other private information related to student accounts on sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Superintendent Creg Williams said officials want access to the information in case they need details about bullying.
The General Assembly last year approved a measure giving such authority to all school districts in Illinois, a bill that Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law and which took effect Jan. 1.
“Until the law was changed, we had no right to ask students for that information,” Williams said.
The superintendent said the measure creates the procedure the district will use when asking students for such information.
“There have been incidents in schools across the country where students who are bullied wind up harming themselves,” Williams said. “We’re hoping that if we can get information about what is happening with students, we can take actions that could avoid people getting hurt.”
Williams cited one incident within the Thornton Fractional high schools in which a student who was being bullied eventually dropped out, and is now being homeschooled.
In District 215, which consists of T.F. North High School in Calumet City, T.F. South High School in Lansing and a vocational center for students in both communities, Williams said the superintendent or a school principal will have to give permission before officials can demand students give them private details of their personal social media accounts.
“We want to be able to pull information so we can use it before incidents happen,” Williams said.
In Crete-Monee School District 201U, the issue came up earlier this month when Crete police had to respond to at least four fights involving students.
Police Chief James Paoletti said that at least one of those fights was provoked by hostile comments posted on a student’s Facebook account.
School officials responded by enforcing existing school policies that restrict a student’s ability to use smartphones or other devices during the school day.
Williams, who said he doesn't know the specifics of the Crete-Monee case, said he thinks the new District 215 policy would help prevent anything similar from happening in one of his high schools.
“We have been fortunate not to have that kind of problem here,” he said. “But anything can happen, and we want to protect ourselves and our students from that kind of activity.”