On February 14th, 2018, seventeen students lost their lives in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Stoneman Douglas students started the #NeverAgain movement to stop gun violence. At the same time, Florida lawmakers, administrators, and parents sought to make schools safer. The Florida Department of Education established the Florida Schools Safety Portal (FSSP) in August of 2019. The FSSP serves as Florida’s school safety database. It gathers student data in the hopes of better assessing threats to school safety. However, this school safety initiative is not without controversy. Proponents say that the FSSP helps administrators deal with dangerous situations. Opponents say that the FSSP goes too far, putting student privacy at risk. However, others say this school safety database doesn’t go far enough.
After the Parkland shooting, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) formed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. The FDLE tasked the Commission with analyzing school shooting information. Then, the Commission delivered recommendations based on its finding. In their January 2019 report, the Commission called for district threat assessment teams. They also called for the creation of “a statewide threat assessment database that is accessible to all districts and appropriate stakeholders.” The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) developed and launched this database.
How Does the School Safety Database Work?
According to the FDOE, the FSSP database improves “school threat assessment teams’ access to information from a variety of sources.” These sources include law enforcement and state welfare agencies. The database includes disciplinary records and data from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice as well. Users can also see if students have been subject to the Baker Act. This Florida law allows involuntary mental health evaluations under certain circumstances. Additionally, a FSSP tool monitors students’ public social media posts for threats. In their press release, the FDOE says the database won’t “be used to label students as potential threats.” Instead, the information helps administrators and teams evaluate already-identified or reported threats.
Controversy Over Florida’s School Safety Database
Some groups have raised concerns about the school safety database. In a July 2019 letter, a coalition of advocacy groups described potential risks. “We are deeply concerned,” the letter reads, “that the program will be used to label students as threats based on data that has no documented link to violent behavior.” This data includes information on mental health care as well as disabilities. The letter then raises concerns about student privacy and data sharing. However, information about disability, religion, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity isn’t stored in the database. As for privacy, data is only available to limited personnel. These personnel can only view the database for half an hour at a time. The database doesn’t allow users to download information.
Is the School Safety Database Enough?
Some argue that the database isn’t as helpful as it could be. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission chair Bob Gualtieri worries about the quality of data. According to Gualtieri, information about crime isn’t always accurate. It’s also often outdated. Gualtieri notes that only state, not local, law enforcement data is available.
Principals and superintendents shouldn’t depend solely on state-wide databases. Instead, schools and districts should consider adopting content-monitoring software for school computers. LearnSafe offers more granular data about threats to school safety. SlateXP, LearnSafe’s distributor, also offers an alert system. Should LearnSafe detect language or an image conveying a threat, School Resource Officers receive an immediate text or e-mail alert. In this way, LearnSafe can work alongside school safety databases to give administrators the information they need to keep their students safe.