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Social media monitoring drastically cut down misconduct: CPS security chief

CPS Safety and Security Chief Jadine Chou at a May 2018 Board of Education meeting. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

A controversial social media monitoring tactic that Chicago Public Schools officials quietly experimented with to tamp down on student gang violence raised the alarm of some parents and advocates wary of privacy invasions.

But it worked, according to the district’s security chief.

By keeping tabs on students’ social media posts — and intervening when violence seemed imminent — CPS officials reduced incidents of misconduct by up to 50 percent compared to schools where the “Connect and Redirect to Respect” pilot program wasn’t implemented, according to district Chief of Safety and Security Jadine Chou.

Research with the University of Chicago Crime Lab showed the program also slashed out-of-school suspensions up to 60 percent compared to control schools, and reduced the shooting victimization rate up to 30 percent.

Chicago Public Schools graphic

Chicago Public Schools graphic

“Social media can be a trigger for some activities that may not be positive,” Chou told the Chicago Board of Education at their monthly meeting on Wednesday — the first time CPS officials discussed the program publicly.

The district rolled out the program in 2015 and it grew to focus on 24 high schools plagued by gang violence, as first uncovered in an investigation published earlier this month by ProPublica Illinois and WBEZ.

After flagging posts with weapons, threats or other signs of gang activity, school officials would summon the students for “interventions” and direct them to counseling, mentoring or job programs in an effort to stem the conflict.

EDITORIAL: CPS, social media and curbing trouble among students

“We let families know, we let schools know, [that] if you see something that’s posted on, say, Facebook or a Snapchat, please send that to us,” Chou said.

A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union previously questioned why parents weren’t notified from the start, and parents told ProPublica and WBEZ they were concerned about privacy.

Chou on Wednesday said the intervention process “supports the other strategies going on in the schools, and has been so effective that we’ve adopted this as just really the way we do our business.”