I was booked to speak at Greely Middle School in Cumberland, Maine, just south of Freeport (home of L.L. Bean). Fine and dandy, right? I spoke with the principal, Kim, about my talks for the students, which would be 6th-8th graders. I told her my talks are basically "the Internet 'Scared Straight'" and that I find Myspace profiles of some students who post too much info, compromising photos, etc and let them know if I can see it, then anyone online anywhere in the world can see it. She was thrilled and said it would probably shock them into shaping up.
So I did my homework and made my presentation for the 7th/8th graders just as promised; for the 6th graders, I just covered the online safety aspects and didn't get into profiles with them. The older kids need to know better.
I was scheduled to speak this morning; 7th/8th graders first; 6th graders second. Then it was lunch with some faculty, then a faculty presentation/training, then a talk for parents/the public tonight at 7 pm. If you can't tell by now, I'm home and have been since lunchtime.
So, I do my 7th/8th grade presentation and show these kids the profiles I found and why they needed to change them. Then I showed a public profile (which has since been made private, gee, I wonder why). But in the screen shot of it the last line in the "about me" section was to a group created by this one kid that was a "hate" group for a teacher some of them don't like. Sixteen students were members of this group.
I showed the students I found this, which means anyone could, because it was PUBLICLY AVAILABLE. They were shocked.
Afterwards, the kid who made that original profile told me it was marked private. I said it wasn't when I saw it (which was Monday when I took the screen shot). He was embarrassed and asked the vice principal if he was going to get into trouble for it.
On the break, the principal was concerned because the teacher who is hated by 16 students, was "devastated." I asked her if the school knew about this hate group? She said no. I told her they needed to know about it to stop it before it got worse. And what teacher isn't hated by some of their students? I mean, grow some balls, man.
So I did the 6th grade presentation, which went great.
Then I was called into the principal's office.
She handed me my check and told me my two other talks had been canceled. I was flabbergasted. She told me all the students were buzzing about my talks. Isn't that what they were supposed to be doing? She said the teacher named in the hate group was really, really upset and she was afraid parents would come with "pitchforks" to skewer me later. I told her I was a big girl. She was firm in not wanting me on campus any longer.
Talk about putting your head in the sand. This school did just that today. I found something they didn't want to believe could happen at THEIR school. I was ticked off and offended. And hurt. I still am.
I calmly told her that if she wanted me to come back in the fall to do a parent talk, I'd do it because it was already paid for.
I was summarily dismissed.
I drove back to the hotel, packed my bags and drove home.
I called my friend V2 and told her what happened. The first thing she (and my mom said) was that the kid must have rich parents. That area is a wealthy area, so it wouldn't be a surprise. And the school didn't want to get "mummy and daddy" upset. Tough.
My mom asked if I had called my lawyer to cover my ass. I said, from what? Everything I showed was PUBLICLY available at the time I viewed it. The purpose of my talks was to show these kids they were not invulnerable and needed to be careful about what they posted online. Then I showed them how to be safer. Simple, huh?
Let's see how long that group stays up.
So I'm home. I'm still pissed.
I did get one email from a parent. Here's what they wrote to me and my reply:
At 01:55 PM 4/25/2007, you wrote:
email: (deleted for privacy)
comments: I want to know why you who are apparently so concerned with privacy had the audacity to parade not just one of my children but two of my children in front of their peers today at Greely Junior High School.
Your children were not singled out, there were others included - I merely pointed out that many kids are failing to take proper privacy precautions when online. Then I showed them how to stay safer.
Then I got this and my reply to her:
At 02:16 PM 4/25/2007, you wrote:
email: (deleted for privacy)
comments: Good afternoon,
My daughter is a student at Greely Middle School and has just informed me that your presentation is canceled. I would like to hear from you as to what you presented to the kids and why you think the administration canceled the presentation. Frankly, it sounds like what you showed the kids is exactly what we all need to hear about.
You will need to talk with the principal about this. If you want to get back to me after you talk with her, I'd be happy to give you my input.