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YouTubers with 1.1 million followers create security, privacy concerns for Pasco schools

The district is taking steps to stop unauthorized video recording in schools, amid parent and student complaints.

Emma and Ellie have been living their lives on YouTube with parents Mark and Heather DeLucio for a few years now, sharing everything from their ice cream truck choices to their inner thoughts.

So giving their million-plus subscribers a video tour of their Pasco County schools in early August, as the girls met their new teachers, was nothing more than another day in the life. To them.

But to others in the schools, the idea of serving as unwilling extras in a social media reality show did not fit into their plans.

They raised privacy concerns. They worried that the videos might give unsavory characters enough information to breach campus security. And they didn’t appreciate someone profiting by videotaping them. People make money on YouTube by attracting large numbers of views for the ads and sponsorships on the videos.

“My daughter said, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m in it,'” said Sharon Michael, a parent at Mitchell High School. “It became personal. ... She shouldn’t be afraid that she’s going to go to school and have herself filmed for a video, and put on YouTube.”

Michael said she filed a complaint with YouTube, noting she had not given permission for her minor child to appear in the girls’ “Back to school with me!” video, which had been viewed more than 188,000 times. She also wrote to the Pasco County School Board, offering to help in any way to get the video removed and to stop such recordings in the future.

She was not alone.

Among the others, student Madison Kirk told the board that the video posed a threat to the school and everyone in it. The family recorded in Mitchell and also Trinity Oaks Elementary.

“This video makes me feel unsafe in my own school," Kirk wrote, “as it shows hallways, classrooms, portables, entrances and exits, as well as every angle of the school, ranging from parking lots to the bus loop. I would like to see this video be taken down as soon as possible, as this could further escalate to a bigger issue than a YouTube video.”

Mitchell High principal Jessica Schultz chimed in, too. She told top district administrators she was not keen on having a walking tour of her campus available online for anyone to see. But an easy resolution did not appear forthcoming.

“I politely asked the family to remove it because of safety concerns given our climate and culture,” Schultz told deputy superintendent Ray Gadd. “The mother declined, saying that the video was how they made money.”

The DeLucios did not respond to emails or phone messages seeking comment from the Tampa Bay Times. In a May 2018 video on their channel, they spoke of having a similar situation with their previous school in Pinellas County.

According to their comments in their “The truth about our lives! Kicked out of school!” episode, mom Heather and daughter Emma discussed how their unwillingness to take down a video that their private school found unacceptable led to them being dis-enrolled.

Pasco school officials acknowledged they could not and would not go that far.

However, they were primed to stop similar future incidents from occurring.

Gadd said he met with the DeLucios and told them that schools have been given the authority to have them cited for trespassing if they come back on campus and videotape, particularly for the YouTube channels from which they derive their income.

“I don’t think you have the right to walk through a secure building and video students,” district lawyer Dennis Alfonso said in agreement. “It’s not like walking through a park.”

The district has not given permission to any enterprise for filming a reality show on its properties, Gadd added. Plus, several issues related to protecting children’s privacy exist, such as the inadvertent showing of a child who might be living away from a non-custodial parent who is not supposed to have contact.

There likely would be less of an issue, Alfonso said, if the family were to video record a school sporting event, which is more generally open to the public and where there is much less expectation of privacy. Emma is a cheerleader, and some families have anticipated a potential showdown at the school’s next game if the family tries to make an episode there.

The district also is working up policy revisions to clarify its stance on recording without getting permission first. It already has such rules in place for employees and for students, but not for parents and other visitors.

“We should probably look into some type of policy for this,” board chairwoman Alison Crumbley said. “I’m sure this isn’t going to be the last time it’s going to happen.”

Board member Megan Harding agreed, citing the safety concerns as paramount.

“The public doesn’t need to see every little thing,” Harding said. “I’m glad we are taking steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Because people do YouTube.”

Community activist Heide Janshon, who also complained to the district about the video, said she hoped that beyond anything that happens locally, state lawmakers will look into this situation. They have spent millions working to make schools safer, she said, but they haven’t yet contemplated what to do about someone who comes into a school with a phone or camera and makes such videos to share online.

Past that, Janshon also was hopeful the Trinity community wouldn’t become too jaded by the YouTubing, which has been taking place in other area locations, too.

“Somebody kindly asked them to take down the video, and they just flatly refused,” she said. “It seems like $10 for clicks was more important than the peace of mind of the community. And now the community feels like they are being spied on.”

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at jsolochek@tampabay.com.

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