Hays school district condemns racially harassing video on social media

Hays CISD leaders are condemning a “racially harassing video” involving two Hays High students that was posted to social media earlier this week.

According to a district press release, officials were made aware of a video that showed a person, later identified as a student, using a racial slur several times while driving in a vehicle. The video, which had been originally posted on SnapChat, had then been posted onto to Twitter by district students.

Officials immediately investigated the matter and determined that the conduct occurred off of school district property, outside of the school day, and not at a school activity, according to the release.

“However, because the district has limited authority to address students’ off-campus activity if it has an adverse effect on the educational environment, appropriate corrective action was taken with the involved students,” Tim Savoy, Hays CISD public information officer said. “Additionally, the district has also asked the relevant social media platforms to remove the video.”

Amid social media fallout from the video, Savoy and David Bowe, Hays CISD communications specialist, used it as a teaching moment to help students realize the need for social media responsibility.

That extends to the district’s Digital Citizenship program that acts as a guideline for students to follow while connected during the school day.

Savoy said Hays CISD’s digital citizenship program began when the district kick-started its “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) campaign in 2013. BYOD allows for students and educators to bring their own electronic device into the classroom for a blended learning environment.

However, students are required to abide by rules that prohibit students from using devices in a non-educational manner, or from posting racist or profane material while on the district’s wi-fi network.

Savoy said the Digital Citizenship program is component of the shift Hays CISD has taken toward devices.

“Technology is an important part of the way people live and work today. It’s also a way for people to learn,” Savoy said.

The district takes an additional step by instructing educators on Digital Citizenship rules during in-service workshops. Savoy said he feels the district is getting “the word out to folks” regarding its program. Educators are instructed on acceptable and unacceptable uses of technology in the classroom.

“Because we make an effort and it’s something we do focus on, it makes it more disappointing this happened,” Savoy said. “It’s unacceptable to have this video posted.”

But as much as the district can control what goes on in the classroom, monitoring what takes place after school hours is the challenge, Bowe said. The task can be especially difficult for parents, who also struggle in monitoring what students see and post online.

Bowe, who had previously taught Economics at Hays High, said one way he has tried to rectify the issue is discussing the cost and effect inflammatory posts can harbor. Once a video or post is placed on social media, students may not realize they can often lose control of it, Bowe said.

While some students have been proactive in addressing potential issues on social media, Bowe said some students have to go through an experience to understand the pitfalls of social media.

“It lives forever online and there can be consequences,” Bowe said. “We often tell students, ‘don’t let a bad decision today affect an opportunity tomorrow.’”

The district is also using its social media accounts as a tool to help monitor and address potential issues. Bowe said he has reached out and responded to students via social media to discuss troubles or to calm down situations that may arise.

Hays CISD is also reaching out to student advisory panels to discuss how to better address social media awareness for students.

One way could be to potentially have face-to-face discussions on topics, which could allow students to express their feelings. It could also help curb heated debate, which can occur with discussions online.

“It’s good to have a place to have a sit-down conversation and talk about it and for people to express their feelings,”Bowe said. “It’s worth looking into.”

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