As I mentioned in the previous post, Nancy Willard of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use had a long post on a listserv this morning with lots of details about Julie Amero’s trial. She’s given me permission to reprint that post in its entirety. Click on “More” to see the whole thing.
There’s no way, after reading Nancy’s post, that you can come away from this situation with the slightest inclination that Ms. Amero is guilty of anything — and no way you can not point fingers at her outrageously bad legal defense and criminally lax IT support at her school.
I keep getting private messages thanking me for these updates, so I will
continue sending them.
First, I have just posted a new document on my CSRIU site http://csriu.org/.
In the Amero case, it is clear that the computer was not adequately
protected, Amero had not received effective training, and the investigation
was thoroughly mismanaged. This document outlines how school districts can
limit the potential of such incidents occurring through technical protection
and education, ensure that students and staff know how to effectively
respond, and conduct a responsible investigation.
Please feel free to download and provide this document to anyone. You all
know I like to focus on “teachable moments.” This case is a major teachable
moment for how school districts MUST approach this concern.
Update on the case. Julie has a new attorney, who has significant expertise
in criminal law. The sentencing has been postponed until March 29. The
transcript is available on the local newspaper site:
Some folks on various lists have asked why she didn’t turn off the computer,
what did she do, how much did the students see and under what circumstances,
and why was she convicted. I am going to provide some brief answers to this,
because I think they are very relevant to a better understanding. More
in-depth information is available in the other report on my web site.
Why didn’t she turn off the computer? Julie indicated that she was told not
to turn off the computer and did not know how. Further, she testified she
did not know the difference between the button to turn off the monitor and
the buttons on the computer — she was a true computer neophyte. She has not
said this, but I know that computer neophytes are very afraid that if they
do something wrong, they will break the computer or erase everything on the
What did she do? She turned the screen to the front of the class away from
the students and tried to get rid of the images by clicking off the sites as
they appeared on the monitor. And she did not realize that this would not
work. At lunch (after 3 back-to-back classes) she ran to the faculty room
and asked for help. No help came. She told the assistant principal after
school. She was likely in total panic the entire school day.
How much did they see? I privately challenged Andy Carvin because he wrote
in his blog “students saw a flood of adult images.” This is not true and has
been an unfortunate message communicated by the news media.
I have read all of the student reports. There were approximately 60 students
in that classroom that day. Of these students, 10 reported seeing something
online. One other reported that he tried to look. Of these 10, 8 reportedly
briefly saw mild erotica. Here are their descriptions in their words: ³two
women with bathing suits,² a photo of a naked woman, ³nude men,² ³two naked
girls,² ³small boxes which had women in them Š naked,² ³two naked women Š
they were anime.²
The two who described more concerning images both also reported that there
were a little pictures on the screen and also reported that they were far
enough away that Julie did not notice them. The description provided by one
student left no doubt in my mind that he had some prior exposure. Both of
these two students also tried to look after being told.
Of the eleven students, 6 specifically indicated that they tried to look
after being told by another student about the situation. (My assumption is
that by the third class, every student knew even if he did not report.) Here
are some of the creative ways they tried to look:
Student 8: ³I heard (Student 3) tell (Student 4) the teacher was looking at
porn. I turned my head to look at the computer screen but I couldn¹t see
what was on the screen. I wanted to see what was on the screen so I walked
toward the teacher to ask her a question.²
Student 7: ³I went over to ask her a question about my homework. Š. Before I
went over to the teacher I heard she was looking at porn on the computer. I
heard from (Student 2) and (unknown).²
Student 2: ³I had to throw something away in the garbage, which is right
next to the teacher¹s computer. Š Before I went up there, Student 3 told me
the teacher was looking at porn. I walked up to see what was on the
computer. I crumpled a piece of paper and put it in the trash can next to
where the teacher was sitting.² (“had to throw something away”???)
Of the eleven students, five reported that the Amero took specific actions
to block their view, one who walked up to the desk reported specifically
that the teacher did not notice him, three were sitting at desks about 15
feet away (my estimate) and Amero likely did not know they could see, and
two students who did walk up to the desk did not report whether Amero
noticed them or any protection action, but they only reported brief views.
WHY was she convicted? One factor is that her attorney is reportedly an
older man who has severe MS, which appears to have really hampered his
defense. I have read the transcript and although I have not done anything in
criminal law since 1985 (agh, I am old) I could see countless places where
he should have done a better job in making an objection, making a motion,
and cross examining witnesses.
The other factor, that I think was really influential, is that the judge
allowed the prosecutor to show really big images of the sites that came up
on the computer — NOT the ones that the students saw. The defense attorney
did rightly object to the fact that these were inflammatory, which they
clearly were. He should have also objected that there was no foundation that
these were the images that the students actually saw, or at least similar
to. I personally think that after seeing these images, the jurors were ready
to hang Julie, not merely convict her.
The thing that concerns me the most about this case is revealed in the
testimony of Scott Fain. His testimony makes it clear that he knew that
Julie had tried to get help the day of the incident. And in looking at the
police investigative report — after the district reported the “crime” to
the police — there is no mention that Julie had asked for help on the day
of the incident. Also, there is no mention that the district’s filter
license had lapsed. People who are intentionally trying to access porn do
not ask for help.
Whose responsibility was it to make sure substitute teachers are properly
informed about what do to? Whose responsibility was it to make sure the
computers were as secure as possible? Whose responsibility was it to review
the logs to determine if the sites appeared in a random manner (indicating a
porn trap) or a “linked” manner (indicating intentional access) and to
review the computer to determining the presence of any malware?
I personally think that as parental anger and concern was mounting and
firing Julie was not enough, the school officials simply threw her in front
of the school bus.
Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats: Responding to the Challenge of Online Social
Aggression, Threats, and Distress. New edition, published by Research Press.
Cyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy Teens: Helping Young People Learn to Use the
Internet Safely and Responsibly. Jossey-Bass (March 16, 2007)