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Cybertraps for Educators: Digest #2022-01-24

Highlights from week of January 17 through January 23, 2022

Cybertraps for Educators: Digest #2022-01-24
"Hang in There", St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands (2022)
Table of contents

Cybertraps Podcast Episodes: Week of January 17, 2022

"The Cybertraps Podcast" took a brief hiatus during the week of January 17 but returned with a live episode on Monday, January 24, 2022. Next week's issue will contain the usual links and show titles.

To get notifications of newly-released episodes, subscribe to "The Cybertraps Podcast" on Apple Podcast or on your podcast player of preference.

“The Cybertraps Podcast” is recorded live most Mondays at noon Eastern. You can watch the broadcast of the show on the Cybertraps Facebook page.

Welsh Rugby Coach Loses License over Nude Photo Requests

The town of Aberdare, Wales is located about 39 miles northwest of Cardiff, in the county borough of Rhondda Cynon Taf. For more than six years, 34-year-old Gavin Williams served as the "rugby partnership officer" at the Aberdare Community School.

In November 2019, Williams was arrested "on suspicion of sexual communication with a child" and police downloaded over 1,200 messages from his phone. After examination, Williams was found to have sent inappropriate and in some cases, sexually suggestive messages to eight female students on Snapchat and Instagram. While the South Wales Police ultimately decided not to prosecute him, a fitness to practice hearing was convened by the Education Workforce Council (EWC) to determine if he should retain his license to teach. Among the evidence presented to the EWC:

The support teacher asked one young girl, referred to as Learner A, for “pictures of her pretty face” and “rude ones of her boobs”.
He asked another girl words to the effect of “do you send nude pictures of yourself?”.
He told another pupil “I bet you’re a naughty girl” and said: “I thought you would only go for boys with big willies.”
A picture he sent to one girl of his face and chest while he was lying on a bed was accompanied by a message which read: “You should be here.”

The EWC also found that Williams told one female student that another educator at the school "had made comments about her tits and arse." That educator was subjected to an investigation, which revealed that Williams was lying. The EWC noted that his comments to the student "could have ruined [his colleague's] professional reputation."

The EWC elected to permanent remove Williams's name from the register of school support workers to "protect learners, maintain public confidence in the education professions and to declare and uphold proper standards of professional conduct."

C4E Discussion Topics:

The Need for Selfie-Awareness. This is a theme that occurs time and time again in educator misconduct cases. It is far too easy for an educator to use his or her personal device(s) to send inappropriate messages to a student. Since schools have no legal mechanism for monitoring a teacher's private communications, the ethical onus is on each individual educator to monitor his or her emotional and psychological condition and to seek help before committing this type of crime. While it is true that some small percentage of perpetrators are unrepentant predators (for whom the Model Code of Ethics for Educators is a blank page), most teachers could avoid this cybertrap by adhering to the ethical standard I.A.4:

Monitoring and maintaining sound mental, physical, and emotional health necessary to perform duties and services of any professional assignment; and taking appropriate measures when personal or health-related issues may interfere with work-related duties[.]

Ethical Obligations Towards Colleagues. While there is no MCEE standard specifically entitled "Don't Make Up False Information about Your Colleagues," no educator could reasonably think that doing so is ethical behavior. Lying about a colleague could, for instance, be considered to be a form of harassment (IV.B.8) or the filing of a false ethical complaint (I.B.4). (In this case, Williams committed that ethical violation by proxy, since he reasonably could have anticipated that the student would report the alleged comments by his colleague to the school.) Above all, it's hard to imagine that a false statement about a colleague constitutes "[e]xhibiting personal and professional conduct that is in the best interest of the organization, learning community, school community, and profession." (IV.D.3).

"Gavin Williams banned from teaching for requesting nude photos," BBC, January 18, 2022 [ last accessed on 20 January 2022 at https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-60038391 ].

John Jones, "School rugby coach 'asked for nude pictures from pupils' and told one 'you could look 18 if you wanted to'," Wales Online, January 12, 2022 [ last accessed on 20 January 2022 at https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/education/school-rugby-coach-nude-pupils-22716378 ].</sub.

Oxford Community Schools Superintendent Blasts False Allegations

CNN has an excellent summary of a forceful open letter written by Oxford Community Schools Superintendent Tim Throne and posted to the district's web site. The document is Thorne's attempt to debunk what he describes as "numerous irresponsible and false allegations and inaccurate claims" made about the district and its employees in the wake of the shooting that took the lives of four students.

There are two things of particular interest. First, Thorne specifically denies that the school had any notice of Ethan Crumbley's social media posts until after the shooting occurred on November 30, 2021. That undoubtedly will be an issue in the upcoming civil litigations.

Second, Thorne does not address the failure of school employees to search Crumbley's backpack or locker during or after the meeting with Crumbley and his parents on the day of the shooting. That will be an even more significant factor in determining whether school officials acted negligently, so it's not surprising that he omitted it from his letter.

It will be interesting to see how this case unfolds as it works its way through the courts. Stay tuned for further updates.

Jason Hanna and Taylor Romine, "Michigan superintendent calls claims in lawsuit over high school shooting 'irresponsible and false'," CNN.com, January 20, 2022 [ last accessed on 27 January 2022 at https://www.cnn.com/2022/01/20/us/michigan-school-shooting-lawsuit-claims/index.html ].

Age-Regression Software Helps Nab CA Teacher Trolling for Minors

Darrin Michaels, a 34-year-old teacher in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District, was arrested in early December en route to the Veranda LUXE Cinema & IMAX in Concord, CA. Michaels had been communicating with someone he thought was a 13-year-old boy on Grindr and had invited him to go see a movie.

But in fact, Michaels had been chatting with a senior investigator in the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office.

According to an affidavit signed by DA Senior Inspector Darryl Holcombe, the detective used “age regression technology” to make himself look like a teen, then set up a profile on Grindr, the self-described “world’s largest social networking app for gay, bi, trans, and queer people.” In subsequent texting conversations, the detective told Michaels he was a 13-year-old boy and Michaels allegedly invited him to go out for a movie.
Michaels allegedly requested a photo of the “boy’s” armpits and said he wanted to kiss them, and described various sex acts during the two days they chatted, Holcombe wrote. He also allegedly admitted to molesting children; police are still investigating whether they believe the admission was real.
“In my adult years I’ve been with two 12, one 13, one 15, several 16 and 17,” Michaels allegedly wrote, adding that the last time involved a 17-year-old, before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Mt. Diablo district said that there is no evidence that Williams molested any students in the district. A decision on possible charges and prosecution will be made once investigators finish examining Williams's devices.

C4E Discussion Topics:

The Police Can Lie to Suspected Criminals. In this case, the police appear to have acted unethically, by creating a false persona and leading Michaels to believe that he was conversing electronically with someone who actually does not exist. That may strike you not only as unethical but fundamentally unfair. However, as the ACLU of Nevada puts it, "Police not only can lie to you, they will lie to you in order to get what they want: an arrest." That is, after all, the fundamental premise behind every undercover cop show. The entire one-page document (download above) is an important read.

A Few Words on Entrapment. But isn't that entrapment, I hear you ask? That's definitely a risk for undercover cops and other law enforcement investigators. The courts have made it clear, however, that there is a difference between providing a suspect with the opportunity to commit a crime and inducing them to commit a crime that they otherwise would not have committed. Obviously, there is a lot of grey area between opportunity and inducement, and cops often skate as close to the latter as possible. But in general (and particularly in cases involving sexual solicitation or assault), courts tend to give law enforcement the benefit of the doubt.

Digital Investigation Tools Are Really Powerful and Getting More So. Years ago, someone got the bright idea to use software (and Hollywood techniques) to digitally age the photographs of children who had been kidnapped or gone missing. With the rise of online communication services (chat rooms, forums, social media, etc.), the digital solicitation of minors became a focus for law enforcement. Someone else had the bright idea that if kids could be made older, adult law enforcement officers could be made "younger" and pose as potential targets for pedophiles. Software programs are already very successful at doing this and will only get more so with the increased aid of artificial intelligence.

Nate Gartrell, "Concord elementary school teacher allegedly talked online about molesting children," The Mercury News, January 18, 2022 [ last accessed on 19 January 2022 at https://www.mercurynews.com/2022/01/18/concord-elementary-school-teacher-allegedly-talked-online-about-molesting-children/ ].

Singapore School Implements "Character and Citizenship Education" Curriculum

A school located in northwest Singapore, Compassvale Secondary School, offers a useful model for helping students maintain a sense of cyber wellness even when confronted with hostile and abusive comments online.

The school implemented Singapore's Character and Citizenship Education Curriculum for younger students last year and has since extended it to older students as well. The program was developed because Singapore educational leaders and teachers realized how much time students were spending online and saw the challenges they were facing. A central part of the program is to encourage communication among students about they experience online and how they handle different situations.

“During the CCE lessons, we surface contemporary issues, we surface authentic scenarios. And when they are faced with this kind of scenario, they get to hear what their peers feel or believe in. And then they will learn from each other and learn about how to manage,” said Madam Wan Fazithahariani, a senior teacher at the school.
“What we do is we facilitate this discussion and we bring up some interesting points or management skills that they can use. Hopefully when they’re out there on their own they will be able to manage that.”
The lessons put students in “contemporary” scenarios that students “can connect with”, said Mdm Wan, a specialised CCE teacher.

The Cyber Wellness initiative is part of the Singapore Ministry of Education's guidance on Social and Emotional Learning. The goal of the program is to help Singapore students develop five key competencies:

  • Self-awareness
  • Social awareness
  • Self-management
  • Relationship management
  • Responsible decision-making.

There is a lot to admire in this program, including its strong focus on the role of parents in reinforcing these lessons. The Ministry of Education has posted a variety of resources that could be of interest to parents and educators around the world.

Singapore is in the process of updating its CCE curriculum and I will share the new version when it is made available.

C4E Discussion Topics:

Educators as Ethical Role Models. There is no specific principle in the Model Code of Ethics for Educators that calls upon educators to affirmatively teach ethical principles or good citizenship to students. And interestingly, the MCEE does not explicitly call upon educators to serve as role models of ethical behavior.

It is nonetheless clear, however, that the MCEE is infused with an expectation that educators will conduct themselves in an ethical fashion and that doing so is integral to an educator's position in his or her profession, workplace, and community. The introduction to "Principle I: Responsibility to the Profession" lays out that fundamental precept:

The Professional Educator Is Aware that Trust in the Profession Depends upon a Level of Professional Conduct and Responsibility that May Be Higher than Required by Law. This Entails Holding One[self] and Other Educators to the Same Ethical Standards.

I think that it is a great idea for state departments of education to adopt curricula along the lines of Singapore's Character and Citizenship Education. But even in jurisdictions where that has not been done, educators can encourage ethical growth in their students by adhering to the standards of the MCEE and modeling ethical conduct.

Ang Hwee Min, "Influencers, hate comments and more: Updated CCE syllabus tackles ‘contemporary’ issues like cyber wellness," CNA, January 18, 2022 [ last accessed on 19 January 2022 at https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/cce-character-and-citizenship-education-secondary-schools-moe-cyber-wellness-2442531 ].

School Receptionist Says Mean Things about Kid Names on TikTok

Need a bit of a laugh to relieve the pandemic grimness? Then check out the TikTok feed of Manda Dee, who styles herself as The School Office Lady. She hit the news recently with a series of videos in which she offers reviews of various children's names and the personality traits that go with them. Here's a brief sampling:

"Olivia you're a sweetheart now, but you're gonna be a b***h once you get to high school," she said.
"Penelope is so cute but she's left her bear at the resort again and you've got to drive back four hours and get it.
"She is so forgetful. She's the Daniel of girls."
But she didn't stop there.
"Hazel, Ruth, Evelyn, Lilith, basically all of the old, old lady names, you need to stop correcting me child and your mum needs a nice glass of wine and a long walk in the sunshine."
She added: "Any name that implies innocence - Heaven, Angel, Purity, Charity - your child is the opposite, your child is the devil."

Although she has labeled herself as The School Office Lady, there's no actual evidence that she does work as a school receptionist (although reporters covering the story seem to take her at face value). Her TikTok bio makes it clear that "[a]ll characters are fictitious," but that hasn't stopped more than 130,000 people from following her.

Regardless of whether she actually is a school employee, if you want to be one of the nearly 2 million people who have watched her videos, you can start here:


C4E Discussion Topics:

"On the Internet, Nobody Knows You're a Dog." Almost thirty years ago(!), cartoonist Peter Steiner published an iconic cartoon in The New Yorker, gently poking fun at the fact that it can be very difficult to know who is actually on the other side of the keyboard. His observation is still timely and relevant (cue argument over the value of anonymity online).

This story is a good reminder for all of us that you can style yourself as anyone or anything online. There is, for instance, a very funny Twitter account with the handle @God (which only has 548,000 followers, compared to @KimKardashian's 71 million – make of that what you will). Everything on the internet should be taken cum grano salis.

Humor Is a Tricky Thing for Educators (Especially These Days). Let's assume, for the moment, that Dee actually is a school receptionist somewhere in this wide world. In that case, her videos raise some legitimate questions.

For instance, could it be considered a form of bullying or harassment to make fun of student names? She's not necessarily referencing any specific children but schoolkids who have the names she mocks might not necessarily understand that. There's also a lurking potential for a charge of hate speech if she makes fun of names that are closely identified with a particular ethnic or religious group.

Even assuming Dee avoids those cybertraps, there is the broader question of whether these types of videos would violate the ethical standard of "[r]efraining from professional or personal activity that may lead to reducing one‘s effectiveness within the school community[.]" (I.A.5) Admittedly, a school receptionist is not a licensed professional like educators but arguably, the spirit of the MCEE should apply to all members of a school community.

In the end, a school administrator reasonably could ask whether this is an advisable creative outlet for a school employee. We live in polarized times and many people are touchier than they might once have been. Obviously, Dee has a First Amendment right to create and distribute her comedy but that doesn't mean her employer has to treat it as a laughing matter.

Paige Holland, "School receptionist brutally roasts kids names and says what they really mean," The Mirror, January 16, 2022 [ last accessed on 19 January 2022 at https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-news/school-receptionist-brutally-roasts-kids-25961316 ].

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