WINK News investigates claims that Lee County schools uses social media to spy on parents, school board responds

Reporter: Peter Fleischer Writer: Derrick Shaw
Published: Updated:

Less than a week after a WINK News investigation raised concerns about the Lee County School District using social media to spy on private groups and parents, we’re looking for answers from the school board.

According to a whistleblower complaint and evidence obtained by WINK News, communications staff allegedly was instructed to save online media posts and all the ensuing comments. The whistleblower claims those posts and comments were then sent to higher-level staff.

Paul Barnes has had four children in Lee Schools and he is one of the parents. “I really don’t know why! I haven’t done anything to threaten any school board members, any school board staff,” Barnes told WINK News. “I’ve said nothing derogatory other than my personal opinion about how the district is run.”

Barnes tells WINK News, he hasn’t been able to get any answers about why public comments were monitored on social media, or what the information was being used for. He says he’s filed a records request to see every time his name has been mentioned in emails by district staff.

Since our story aired, WINK News has talked to almost every school board member. They have said they want more information – many are concerned a line could have been crossed. But the district communications office – accused of monitoring and saving posts and comments from social media – has been silent.

The district says there is an active investigation into these claims and they can’t comment until it is finished. School board members don’t have access to an investigation as it’s taking place, but that doesn’t mean they can’t bring it up in a board meeting.

WINK News attended a school board meeting on Monday and a school board briefing on Tuesday. The claims of social media spying have not been addressed. Barnes has ideas as to why information is so hard to come by.

“I think they got caught with their pants down and they’re scrambling,” Barnes admits. “Right now we don’t have any transparency. We have a bunch of backdoor, secret things going on.”

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