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Nancy Willard: The Julie Amero Tragedy

I mentioned Nancy Willard’s report in an update to my earlier post today, but after reading the entire report it deserves a post of its own.

Nancy Willard is executive director of The Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use. She has a great deal of experience and authority on the question of Internet use in the schools and should be regarded as a trustworthy source for information and analysis. She has gone through the available documents relating to the Amero case, including police reports, student interviews and available reports of court testimony (no court transcripts are available online at this time).

Her report goes much deeper than anything I’ve read thus far. Here are some high points:

  • The police never interviewed any other staff members about the incident, only students. This, despite the fact that Julie Amero had reported the incident to the assistant principal at the end of the day and had also gone to the faculty lunchroom to seek help from other teachers to get rid of the popup images. One staff member reported that she was “very upset about the situation”. The reason staff wasn’t interviewed? The school principal did not tell the police during his interview that Amero had tried to enlist their help. That is a failure to disclose potential exclupatory evidence. Even if it was overlooked in the original interview, the principal had a duty to contact the investigator and correct that part of the record, but he didn’t. (p.10)
  • Bob Hartz, the Information Services Director failed to tell police during his interview that the firewall subscription had lapsed, again withholding information that was possibly exculpatory. (p.12)
  • The students’ interviews are the most telling. The first observation that I had was that these were not pure, innocent kids. They knew what online porn was, what they were seeing on the screen, and in typical middle-school manner, thought it was a huge joke that the sub was surfing porn during class. Make no mistake here: these kids were clearly more savvy than Amero with regard to the content popping up on the screen. (p.13 and p. 14)
  • There is no evidence to support intentional, willful or unlawful conduct on Amero’s part. Willard’s opinion: “Rather than a conviction, my personal opinion is that Amero should receive a medal for a job very well done under very difficult circumstances.” (p.15)

Ms. Willard leaves us with a thoughtful and clear analysis of the real reason for Julie Amero’s conviction: Fear. Fear stirred up by politicians, the mainstream media and the human tendency to fear that which is not known. Read her concluding paragraphs. She sums it up quite well. Let’s hope this report becomes part of the record on the day that Julie Amero’s conviction is reversed and she is declared factually innocent of all charges.

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