Sextortion workshops set for parents

The fastest growing crime in North America is sextortion, so Ector County ISD plans two workshops to raise awareness and give parents tools to combat it.

According to Merriam Webster, sextortion is “when an online predator tricks someone into giving them nude images or videos, and then demands money, more images, or makes other demands — threatening to share the images with the victim’s friends and family if they don’t comply.”

The first workshop on the subject is set for 6 p.m. April 25 at George H.W. New Tech Odessa, 300 E. 29th St.

The second will be virtual at 6 p.m. May 2. ECISD Superintendent Scott Muri said the link will be on the ECISD website,

The workshop will be held in conjunction with the ECISD Police Department and Harmony Home, Muri said. Harmony Home is “a nonprofit organization focused on lessening the trauma and healing the hurt of child abuse to children and their families,” its website says.

“Our community should be concerned. Again, this is the fastest growing crime in North America and it directly affects children within our own community. We’ve seen cases of that in our own community,” Muri said.

He added that the district has seen multiple cases of it.

Many times it’s law enforcement, such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or FBI, that makes the parents aware.

So sometimes ECISD is not directly aware because law enforcement goes to the family.

“Sometimes we are made aware because the family lets us know specifically because of counseling opportunities. Many times our counselors are working with the children that are affected and then sometimes we are aware because the child him or herself will reach out to a guidance counselor, or a coach, or a teacher and let them know that they’re having some issues and then it turns out that this comes up,” Muri said.

If the district hears about it first, they notify the parents and law enforcement. Sometimes the family comes to the district.

He added that he first heard about it from the Department of Homeland Security because of the large number of children in the community that were being affected.

As a parent, the first thing to do when you find out your child has been a victim of sextortion is contact law enforcement, Muri said.

“Our opportunity as a school system is to educate and inform. These two workshops will not only help parents with what to do when you find out, but what are the signs to look for specifically with student behaviors. What behaviors might your child be exhibiting if they have indeed been victimized by a sextortion ring or individual, so we’ll help a parent know and understand what to look for and then also how to monitor your child and their social media usage to identify things like this should they be occurring. But certainly step one is to notify law enforcement, to engage the appropriate authorities,” Muri said.

“Then the second piece of that is ensuring that your child has the type of care that they need. This can be a traumatic experience for a child and our counselors have certainly been engaged. There are other counseling entities within our community. Harmony Home has seen multiple of these cases, as have other counselors within the greater Ector County community. Children that go through this type of (trauma) are going to need some assistance and some support. We want to be a resource, but we also want to lift up the plethora of other resources in our community that can provide supports from law enforcement to counseling supports for families,” he added.

Artificial intelligence was used to partially grade open-ended answers to questions on the STAAR test.

“My reaction to that is I’m not surprised by that,” Muri said. “The sophistication of artificial intelligence today really allows us to use it in a variety of areas, so I was not surprised that we’re using it in that realm. We currently have teachers already using artificial intelligence in our own classrooms today to assist with some of the analysis portion of the grading process.”

He added that it certainly doesn’t take the place of “a live human being reading the responses of our children, but used appropriately and done the right way it can certainly assist in allowing us to provide more sophisticated assessment items to our students and then leverage the technology in conjunction with adults to make sure that they are assessed appropriately.”

Muri said he hasn’t heard from teachers or students about the AI STAAR scoring.

He said there was some early communication from the Texas Education Agency about it before STAAR testing began.

Muri said there wasn’t broad communication and “TEA could have done a better job informing the school districts and the community that this type of technology was going to be leveraged.

“But there were some smaller elements of communication, so we were aware. (We) didn’t know the scope of that, didn’t fully understand how it was going to be used but we were initially aware that it was going to be used.”

Muri said ECISD is going to be adding AI to its grading system.

“There isn’t any holistic plan right now, but certainly we have teachers that already leverage the tool and have been and will continue to do so as balanced with, of course, the eyes of the teacher,” Muri said.

During Tuesday night’s board meeting, the ECISD board of trustees discussed providing a one-time 3 percent retention supplement to all current full-time employees that will be returning next year.

This will be paid for with $6 million in leftover federal COVID relief funds.

“This is in lieu of a salary increase,” Muri said. “As our public is well aware, our state legislature and governor have not increased education funding for the basic allotment since 2019. We’ve given raises every year since then and we’re simply no longer able to do that. We’re dealing with a $24 million budget deficit because of that lack of funding. However, we do have some one-time federal money that is available, so the federal government, if you will, is providing this opportunity for our educators.”

He added that the board understands the critical importance of investing in employees in ECISD.

“For our employees, this certainly doesn’t keep up with the rate of inflation, but it will allow our employees to have an additional financial incentive to make sure that they can continue to live a healthy life within our community,” Muri said.

Teachers of the Year will attend a picnic and RockHounds game at 1 p.m. April 28.

The elementary and secondary teachers of the year for the district will throw out the first pitches.