School App

School officials are warning parents to monitor their children’s use of social media in the wake of two incidents of threats of mass violence on school property.

On Monday, Dec. 5, Trousdale County Schools posted to its website and social media pages a letter from Director of Schools Clint Satterfield regarding the use of the Yik Yak app.

“This app allows people to go online and make bullying, intimidating, harassing, and threatening comments toward others under what the app advertises to be anonymous,” the letter says in part. “It is important to note that, with the assistance of law enforcement, this app is NOT anonymous and it can and will be traced to protect the safety of our students.”

In both recent cases, threats of mass violence were allegedly made via the Yik Yak app. The respective students, an 18-year-old and a 14-year-old, were taken into custody after investigation by law enforcement. The 18-year-old has already appeared in court, while the 14-year-old was supposed to appear in Juvenile Court on Dec. 13. State law required the confidentiality of juvenile proceedings, so the outcome of that case will not be publicly available.

The older student has been expelled and while Satterfield could not comment on the juvenile’s status, he did point out that district policy states that “any student who transmits… a credible threat to cause bodily injury or death to another student or school employee…” shall be expelled for not less than one year.

Satterfield and Jennifer Cothron, director of technology for Trousdale County Schools, are strongly urging parents to have conversations with their children about acceptable behavior on social media.

“This app is bad news… It’s had reviews that say this is not good for students and the community,” Satterfield said. “We watched what has transpired over the past few days. It doesn’t create a safe space.”

While Yik Yak advertises itself as being anonymous, Satterfield reiterated that law enforcement is able to track down users if they do transmit such threats.

“Law enforcement has ways to find out who these people are. If you think this app is a safe place, you’re wrong. We’ve seen two students get in big trouble with it. I’d be sure they get this app off their phones… Trousdale County School and law enforcement are going to take all threats seriously.”

In the two local incidents, Satterfield said law enforcement was able to trace the threats to specific individuals within a matter of hours.

Yik Yak reaches other users within a five-mile radius, Cothron added.

“It’s nothing like Facebook or Twitter; if you’re on it you’re seeing what everyone else around you is doing,” she said.

Aside from Tennessee, schools in Texas, Illinois, Georgia and Kentucky have seen students arrested in the past two weeks for making threats via Yik Yak. On Friday morning, Lebanon Police posted on its Facebook page regarding a potential threat made at Lebanon High.

Cothron emphasized that students’ Chromebooks are not able to access social media or other dangerous sites. Trousdale County has provided all students with their own Chromebooks linked to the district’s system. Those devices contain software to block such sites.

In addition, Cothron said the district would be training teachers to remotely monitor students’ use of their Chromebooks. That training will begin in January and will allow teachers to see what a student is doing without having to stand over the child’s shoulder.

“We’re excited about that; it’s coming at a good time,” she said.

While the two recent incidents have dealt with threats of violence, Satterfield said incidents of bullying or harassment via Yik Yak would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. He acknowledged that disciplining students for statements made outside school hours and off school grounds was a gray area, but district policy allows for such discipline if a student’s actions cause substantial disruption to the learning environment.

“If it causes a disruption, we can investigate,” he said. “If a kid makes a threat of bodily harm, it has to be investigated.”

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-450-5756 or cgregory@hartsville

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