High School Responds To Student's Prank By Asking Local Law Enforcement To Step In And Investigate

from the now-who's-acting-like-a-child? dept

I see we're still handling things stupidly when it comes to school disciplinary problems. For years now, many schools have been steadily abdicating their responsibilities, allowing in-school law enforcement (commonly called "School Resource Officers") to hand out discipline that school administrators used to handle themselves.

This hasn't worked out well for students. It has turned standard discipline problems into police matters and given students a head start on having their futures ruined for juvenile (in all senses of the word) mistakes.

Recently, a high school in Glastonbury, Connecticut was horrified to find it had been pranked. The Hartford Courant's first pass at the breaking news opened with this:

An inappropriate quote has halted distribution of Glastonbury High School’s 2021 yearbooks and police have been called to investigate, the principal confirmed Monday.

How does an "inappropriate quote" become the subject of a police investigation? The rest of the reporting didn't explain. Neither did school administrators. But they did hint it had something to do with bullying.

A student using a false name submitted the quote printed in the yearbook, which was being distributed, Principal Nancy Bean wrote to students and parents on Friday.

Bean would not describe the quote, but she wrote, “We are saddened and distressed by what happened. Acts of bias, bullying and cruelty are not acceptable at our school. We are committed to ensuring all Glastonbury High School students feel safe and supported.”

While it may have been possible some sort of stalking or harassment was taking place that might have merited a law enforcement response, the principal's explanation that the quote had been "submitted" by a student using a fake name suggested nothing more than a bored student taking the high school for a ride.

Later reporting filled in more details. But it still didn't explain why the school felt compelled to involve the police. Nor did it explain why the police felt compelled to remain involved.

A quote by Adolf Hitler inserted into Glastonbury High School’s 2021 yearbooks has halted distribution of the yearbook and police have been called to investigate.

A student using a false name submitted the quote printed in the yearbook, which was being distributed, Principal Nancy Bean wrote to students and parents on Friday. The quote under a student’s photo was attributed to George Floyd, the Black man killed by police one year ago in Minnesota, a photo of the yearbook entry sent to The Courant Monday afternoon showed.

That it involved George Floyd's name and Adolph Hitler's words still doesn't make it a crime. And, again, the principal said a student "submitted" the quote. Those vetting the yearbook before publication failed to catch it. A prank isn't a crime, no matter how terrible it made administrators feel once they realized they'd been tricked into publishing (and distributing) a Hitler quote.

Since the original reporting, a few more details have come to light. And there's still nothing that suggests a criminal act has occurred. It only suggests the school needs better editors and/or a more tightly-controlled submission system.

In an email to the school community, Glastonbury High School’s principal and the district’s superintendent said the quote — which appeared under a student’s photo — was submitted by a different student using a false name. They said they also uncovered an offensive quote glorifying war and an entry, which referenced the “Boston Bomber.” The district’s priority is supporting the students, who were victimized by this act.

Fast forward to a couple of days past the point of the original reporting and a new narrative is being developed, possibly to justify the involvement of law enforcement.

A letter released by the Glastonbury school superintendent said the student gained access to a computer system and submitted a quote from Adolf Hitler, but falsely attributed the message to George Floyd.

"Gained access." That's incredibly vague. If a student had hacked a secure system or accessed administrative systems they had no authority to access, it might be a crime. But only "might." And only if prosecutors are willing to abuse badly-written laws to convert a prank into criminal charges.

The Glastonbury Police were a little more direct in the statement given to Newsweek:

"Although we find the quote to be disturbing, our criminal investigation is not focused on the content of the quote itself, but instead we are focused on investigating the unauthorized access of a computer system through which students submitted their quotes to be published in the yearbook."

This still doesn't explain anything. The official statement from the school superintendent makes no mention of unauthorized access. It also notes the student has already been punished by the school for this prank. All the letter says is the student used a fake name to submit fake quotes. That's not illegal, no matter how embarrassed school officials feel. And this never would have been the end result if schools hadn't become increasingly comfortable outsourcing their disciplinary problems.

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Filed Under: cfaa, connecticut, glastonbury, hacking, kids, police, pranks, school resource officers, schools, students, unauthorized access


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  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 14 Jun 2021 @ 2:04pm

    So! How many lives are the police going to ruin for the “crime” of punking a high school yearbook? I mean, they’re gonna aim for at least one, but surely they can do “better” than that~.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jun 2021 @ 2:05pm

    But think of the children

    I expect that some form of "think of the children" to be evoked at some later press release.
    As far as the "unauthorized access" bit... I think we're all familiar enough with the typical law enforcement shenanigans to know that we'll see some sort of... "because of the use of a 'fake name', the access to the system is considered 'unauthorized' and therefore not lawful"

    if that doesn't happen, It'll be some other explanation as to why accessing an open computer system can somehow be "unauthorized".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      TKnarr (profile), 14 Jun 2021 @ 4:35pm

      Re: But think of the children

      And of course the question of whether the web site in question even had any authentication set up, or if it (like so many) simply assumed nobody would ever use anything other than their real name to submit a quote. As one judge has pointed out, "not desired" doesn't equate to "unauthorized".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jun 2021 @ 4:39pm

    This "access to a computer thing" makes me glad we didn't have SROs when I was in school. At the time, everything I pulled on the school computer network was laughed at in the staff room when staff eventually found out, not outsourced to the local PD for appropriate punishment.

    I think the librarian was annoyed at me for locking him out of his account (poor password choice) but the CS teacher was busy trying to keep a straight face when called in to discipline me on that one... and when I locked HIM out of his printer management system, he just sat me down and got me to show him how I'd done it, and how to fix it so it wouldn't happen again.

    These days, I guess those things would be federal crimes.

    As for time bombing administration messages on the school's computer network, or the various other pranks... well, nobody ever found out who did all that stuff, but I think they'd likely resort to using embarrassment as punishment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      iclaudius (profile), 14 Jun 2021 @ 6:25pm

      Re:

      Doing that kind of thing (locking somebody out) at the bank (and later power utility) I worked at would get you fired instantly with no recourse, and I discourage kids from getting used to the idea that it's just 'fun'. The matter referenced to in the article was not anything even approaching a crime as defined in the Federal USC. Where were the idiots who approved the proofs before it was published? It should have been caught then. The kid is getting punished because the adults failed to do their job.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jun 2021 @ 4:42pm

    Couldn't find a crime in the original stupid complaint, so we will continue to dial up the stupid by dragging this out and looking for, or concocting, a crime with which to charge this prankster.

    Oh, and by this method, we are also making local and national news for this asshat with the Hitler quotes.

    Everybody wins!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    OldMugwump (profile), 14 Jun 2021 @ 5:16pm

    Hitler quote

    For those wondering, the awful Hilter quote in the yearbook was “It is a quite special secret pleasure how the people around us fail to realize what is really happening to them.”

    Yeah, it's kind of Snidely Whiplash-y (evil snicker) but also worth a second thought.

    People these days...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jun 2021 @ 5:27pm

    I wonder how many years in prison the kids in the AV club who put 2 girls 1 cup on all the TVs in the commons during lunch time in 2007 would get these days.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jono793 (profile), 15 Jun 2021 @ 1:09am

    Who are the educators again?

    They can't recognise a quote from Hitler. (Or at least pull a cursory Google)

    They don't know the names of the students in their school.

    They can't be bothered to vet the yearbook properly before publishing.

    So where are the adults again?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jun 2021 @ 1:54am

    police

    The police are mainly there to enforce authority, not laws

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lily May, 15 Jun 2021 @ 4:47am

    If they didn't want "acts of bias, bullying and cruelty" in their school, they should think twice before inviting cops there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 15 Jun 2021 @ 10:59am

    How long will it be until bad grades are being referred to the police?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Lostinlodos (profile), 16 Jun 2021 @ 6:25pm

    Reason is obvious, but not justified

    It’s quite obvious we have two different things that happened.
    A student gained unauthorised access to the school computer system. Which may be a computer crime.

    A student used that access to create what could be construed as a hate crime.

    I think the anti-police mentality is ignoring the issue here.
    Given how schools are being attacked by everyone, I can’t blame administration for over reacting. Last thing a school wants is a hate crime lawsuit.
    But this is the environment the media has spent the past few years creating and instigating.

    Some poor kid is going to get their life turned inside out over CRT, BLM, SR, and a dozen other acronyms. All for a child’s childish prank.

    I don’t doubt for a second if if the quote stolen was MLK it would have a different reaction.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tanner Andrews (profile), 16 Jun 2021 @ 7:46pm

    I don’t doubt for a second if if the quote stolen was MLK it would have a different reaction

    I do not doubt it either. Many people think much more favorably of MKL than of Adolf Hitler. So a quote from the one would be generally better received, outside of GOP circles at any rate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Lostinlodos (profile), 16 Jun 2021 @ 9:14pm

      Re:

      “ outside of GOP circles at any rate.”
      You just had to make that lie didn’t you. White supremacy in the Republican Party is about the same level as Black supremacy in the Democrat party. They make up tiny outliers.

      The reality is the school has a kid attaching Nazi comments to a recognisable black name in the current climate.

      If they didn’t involve the police immediately they’d be open to hate crimes suits.

      When they do what everyone says they should and take a stand against hate they are condemned for calling in the police. if they ignore the “prank” their racist.
      What would you have opted to do? Tanner Andrews?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 9:48am

    Adolf Hitler - I can't breathe

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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