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200+ Rochester schools parents say the district monitored them on social media

Posted at 11:27 PM, Apr 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-21 23:27:14-04

ROCHESTER, Mich. (WXYZ) — Parents at Rochester Community Schools say their rights were violated, claiming the district was monitoring them online.

It all started in March with a social media campaign about school COVID-19 policies. Parents say after a recent court case involving the district, they discovered a list showing more than 200 parents were being watched.

“How dare you? How dare you track me," parent Stephanie Van Deal said to the school board Thursday.

Van Deal has three kids in the Rochester Community Schools district.

She's trying to figure out why her name was among many who were allegedly being monitored by the Rochester Community School district.

“I live on sarcasm and coffee. It would’ve been a joke," Van Daele said.

7 Action News asked the mother if she ever made comments that would be considered harmful.

She said, "Not to my knowledge. If they did perceive that then that’s on them.”

In a recent lawsuit, a Rochester schools parent accused the school district of "snooping" and violating her First Amendment rights over COVID-19 polices.

The school district and the parent settled the lawsuit last month.

Now that the case is over, documents and details are being released including the names of people the district was allegedly watching.

Heather Mehls' name was also on this list. She has three kids in district.

“A little bit of fear like wow, this is what our school district is doing," Mehl said.

“It was even in the deposition that somebody spent 70% of their day monitoring social media," Van Daele said.

She's referring to a deposition with school leaders that can be found online.

7 Action News asked the district about the list of names.

In a statement, they say:

"Rochester Community Schools does not have a list of names of parents who are on social media. Additionally, Rochester Community Schools does not have personal social media accounts under surveillance. As a responsible and respectful listener, Rochester Community Schools pays attention to newspaper, radio, TV news, social media, and our community members to make sure we are responsive to any concerns or potential safety situations."

Van Daele has a question for school leaders: “You think I’m a threat to you? What kind of paranoid fantasy land do you live in?"

Parents say they were only venting about the district and school board's back-to-school decisions during the pandemic.

“None of us, at least from my perspective, ever did anything crazy against the district, just fighting for our kids to be back in school in person," Mehl said.

“What I hope is that the board will hold the people accountable for performing this task," Van Daele asaid.

Full statement from the school board:

"In response to your inquiry, Rochester Community Schools does not have a list of names of parents who are on social media. Additionally, Rochester Community Schools does not have personal social media accounts under surveillance.

As a responsible and respectful listener, Rochester Community Schools pays attention to newspaper, radio, TV news, social media, and our community members to make sure we are responsive to any concerns or potential safety situations.The safety and well-being of our students, staff, and families is always our priority. Recent tragic experiences of school violence in other districts demonstrate the importance and responsibility of any school district to take threats seriously, report them to law enforcement, and provide for the safety of the community. Students, staff, and families are also encouraged to report information if they see or hear something that doesn't seem right.We realize that this has been a trying time for many of our school community members, and we recognize that our families may be dealing with the pandemic in very different ways. Nothing about this pandemic has been routine, easy or predictable. As we all work through the frustration, stress and challenges of a two-year pandemic, the focus of Rochester Community Schools continues to be on the education, growth and wellness of the 15,000 students enrolled in our schools, their families, more than 1,500 RCS staff members, and the community. 

Rochester Community Schools will continue to move forward with great purpose and resolve to provide the best learning options for our students in the safest environment possible."