Across the United States, school safety initiatives are sweeping the public, private, and charter K-12 schools. With the worries that come with safety threats such as active assailant incidents, making sure students are safe at school is a main priority. Surveillance is becoming more prominent in schools now than ever before, especially with technology developing ways for K-12 schools to monitor students through both cameras and social media monitoring. Although some safety experts find many benefits of student surveillance, some disagree and claim the technologies are not useful and cross lines when it comes to student privacy.
Why K-12 School Tracking Software is Being Implemented
In response to the Parkland tragedy the state of Florida created a new school safety database, which stores students’ disciplinary and school records, social media, and criminal history. This information and data are available for threat assessment teams who are responsible for responding to school security threats. The database was created to help K-12 schools and districts spot warning signs for children who may be experiencing bullying, mental health issues, or be a potential threat to their peers. Jessica Bakeman from Byline, explains in this NPR interview, “It's the state's answer to a problem policymakers have been trying to solve since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In that case, people who had concerns that the confessed shooter was dangerous weren't always working together. Now there's more information in one place.”
Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent, Alberto Carvalho, showed reporters around his school district’s police department which had dozens of screens covering the wall showing live video feeds of the K-12 schools, according to NPR. There were also screens showing gunshot activity in the area as well as a satellite view of the county with car icons moving around, which are GPS tracked school busses. “Simply said, this system allows us to have real-time eyes on 18,000 cameras in Miami-Dade County Public Schools”, said Superintendent Carvalho.
Education decision-makers, such as Superintendent Carvalho, are pushing for new school safety technologies to create a safe environment for students and give parents a piece of mind when sending their kids off to school. Although there is support for some of these school safety initiatives, “Civil rights groups say all that surveillance comes at the cost of students' privacy. And parents are worried about how a mistake or even a misunderstanding could show up in the new database and follow their kid into the future”, Jessica Bakeman explains.
Concerns About K-12 School Tracking Software
Constant surveillance is posing concerns for parents and students, as there can be mistakes that are taken out of context, which could turn a student’s world upside down. In this NPR interview, Bakeman speaks with 10th grade student, Eric, who fell victim to a simple misunderstanding. During his spring break he and a group of his friends were playing with a plastic pellet gun when one of his friends snapped a photo of him holding the plastic gun. He was sitting at his desk with the Airsoft rifle, which is designed to look like an AR-15, and his friend captioned the image “Don’t come to school Monday”.
According to police reports, his friend sent this picture to others on Snapchat and one of the people who received the snap reported it to the school district. Eric explains, “A lot of people these days just make dark humor jokes about a bunch of tragedies for the comedy of it.” Even though this was a terrible mistake, Eric was recommended for expulsion. He was removed from his A-rated school to a different school with a C-rating. Unfortunately, because of the database, Eric’s records don’t look good and it will be hard to transfer to a new school in the area. Eric’s Dad, Ricardo, says “Anybody that doesn't know the story will read this and say, there's no way in the world I'm going to put this child in my school.”
A reporter also spoke with NPR’s Anya Kamanetz in more depth about the privacy concerns these surveillance technologies are raising. Kamanetz explains, “Privacy advocates are really up in arms. I mean, in this country, we seal most juvenile records at the age of 18. But now you're seeing students even younger than that who are creating these data trails in social media or even while doing their schoolwork. And those can trigger real-life consequences, not to mention that data can be breached. And then there's a question of false alarms. I mean, kids use social media in all kinds of ways. As you can see with a child like Eric, social media can give a distorted picture.”
Another superintendent in New Jersey also questioned the surveillance technology as a social media post about basketball was flagged as a security threat. For example, if somebody was to post “I’m going to shoot some hoops” the word shoot would be flagged.
School Safety Technologies That Can Help
Although there are mixed opinions on school tracking software, the end goal is the same. Protecting the students from harms way. There are a lot of other school safety technologies that are being implemented across the country that do not include round-the-clock surveillance and social media monitoring.
Anonymous tip texting is one technology that is helping schools tackle bullying incidents and other school safety threats on a K-12 campus. The anonymity allows students to report something and feel comfortable knowing that the incident will be addressed by administrators.
Technology such as panic button applications are also are widely used in K-12 school districts as they’re easy to use, and with the push of a button both school personnel and first responders are alerted of an emergency, whether it be an active assailant or a medical emergency.
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