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School Districts Are Using New Tech To Monitor Security Threats

Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho gave reporters a tour of their district's police force's command center Thursday.
Jessica Bakeman
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission expressed frustration Thursday with a new state Department of Education tool to assess threats at schools. The Florida Schools Safety Portal launched earlier this month, on Aug. 1. 

Part of the Dept. of Education's legal counsel, Jamie Braun, told the commission in a presentation that it's not a perfect data sharing system yet, but that the portal is still helpful.

"It's one more tool in the toolbox available to threat assessment teams that gives them access to data from a variety of sources when they're doing their threat assessment," she said.  

The tool's goal is to consolidate multiple databases for student information into one online dashboard for schools to filter and evaluate the severity of potential threats.  Someone on a school's threat assessment team can log in to search through available information from the Departments of Education, Children and Families, Law Enforcement and Juvenile Justice, as well as Baker Act Reporting Center data and data about reported behavioral incidents. 

There's also a social media monitoring tool for school districts. If school districts choose to opt in, they can log in to the system to monitor any social media posts that mention the name of a school, or that contain certain violent keywords. 

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chairs the commission, said the portal is a start. 

"This is not an integrated data repository and it is probably impossible to accomplish what the intention was," he said. "Don't be walking away thinking, 'Oh My God,' we have this magic wand, because really - it's not." 

The commission has found school districts under-report, over-report and mis-report the frequency or category of behavioral incidents, and the portal is only able to show what schools have previously entered.  So information may be outdated. 

The commission is looking into recomendations about how schools report behavioral incidents and discipline, and also how to improve the threat assessment process at schools. 

Read More: Florida Launches Student Data Tracking System Amid Privacy Concerns

Meanwhile, education leaders in Miami-Dade County also showed off technology they're using to monitor and respond to threats.

Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho gave reporters a tour of the district police force’s command center Thursday. High-definition surveillance cameras show what’s happening in schools in real time.

Carvalho also urged parents to download the app created by state officials in the wake of Parkland, , which can be used to report potential threats to schools, even anonymously.

He warned against using it frivolously, though.

“There are some folks out there playing games, and they are reporting complaints about food in the cafeteria or the cleanliness of a bathroom,” Carvalho said. “That is not the use for this system. This system is only to be used to report critical threats, critical incidents.”

Carvalho stressed the district’s high level of security heading into the first day of school, which is Monday for Miami-Dade.

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Caitie Switalski is a rising senior at the University of Florida. She's worked for WFSU-FM in Tallahassee as an intern and reporter. When she's in Gainesville for school, Caitie is an anchor and producer for local Morning Edition content at WUFT-FM, as well as a digital editor for the station's website. Her favorite stories are politically driven, about how politicians, laws and policies effect local communities. Once she graduates with a dual degree in Journalism and English,Caitiehopes to make a career continuing to report and produce for NPR stations in the sunshine state. When she's not following what's happening with changing laws, you can catchCaitielounging in local coffee shops, at the beach, or watching Love Actually for the hundredth time.
Jessica Bakeman reports on K-12 and higher education for WLRN, south Florida's NPR affiliate. While new to Miami and public radio, Jessica is a seasoned journalist who has covered education policymaking and politics in three state capitals: Jackson, Miss.; Albany, N.Y.; and, most recently, Tallahassee.