California school leaders must tell parents they are monitoring students’ social media posts, and must delete this information when students leave the district, under a first-of-its-kind state law


The law aims to protect students’ online privacy.

If California school officials collect information about students’ public posts on social media websites, they must  discard this information within a year after a student leaves the district, and they must tell parents they are monitoring their children’s social media posts, under a new state law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown Sept. 29.

The legislation stems from AB 1442, which California Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Silver Lake, introduced in January. The impetus for the bill was the Glendale Unified School District’s hiring of a firm called Geo Listening to monitor students’ posts on social media without telling students or parents that their children’s public posts on sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram were being tracked.

“I’m very pleased that the governor saw the need for this legislation,” Gatto said. “I believe that as the world changes and this type of monitoring becomes more commonplace, legislation like this is critical to protecting the privacy of our children.”

In January 2013, Glendale Unified hired Geo Listening under a pilot program to track students’ posts on social networking sites at three of its high schools.

The school board then voted in August 2013, without any public discussion, to expand the program to track about 13,000 students’ posts across its four middle schools and four high schools. School officials said it would enable them to intervene if students were at risk of hurting themselves, committing suicide, hurting others, using drugs, or engaging in violent activity.

Glendale Unified Superintendent Dick Sheehan said the district hired Geo Listening in response to the suicide of Drew Ferraro, a 15-year old boy who jumped to his death from a third-story building at Crescenta Valley High School in 2012. His family later sued the school district, alleging that bullying played a major factor in his death. The case is ongoing.

(Next page: What Glendale officials learned from their monitoring of students’ social media posts—and reactions to the law from state superintendents)