THE ISSUE: Florida’s school safety database.
OUR OPINION: Delicate line between school safety and student privacy needs clarity.
With no community safe from the threat of a potential mass shooting, school safety fears have spurred the monitoring of student data by school and government officials nationwide as a proactive tool to nip future school shootings in the bud.
Among the school safety provisions of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act passed by the Florida Legislature last year was a mandate to create a state “centralized integrated data repository” to monitor students who may pose a threat to themselves or others.
After a hurried development, the centralized data repository became operational on Aug. 1. Called the Florida School Safety Portal, it is to help school districts monitor threats of violence against students, employees and schools, as well as signs of student bullying, suicide, and well-
The wide net of student information includes school disciplinary records, criminal histories, social media posts, and records related to a student being “Baker-Acted” or involuntarily committed to a mental health treatment facility. Additionally, it includes information from FortifyFL, an app created for reporting suspicious behavior.
The data portal is used by threat assessment teams comprised of law enforcement and school officials charged with evaluating the seriousness of student threats to determine whether preemptive action or professional help for a student is needed.
The data portal’s potential lifelong implications for students prompted
33 civil liberties groups to legitimately question if it is an infringement of student privacy that has gone too far.
While threat assessment teams are charged to evaluate the seriousness of a student threat, what constitutes a valid threat to justify accessing the database has not been defined.
Although the data portal can only be accessed by threat assessment teams, no specifics on how the data can be used have been provided in the law or by state officials.
Clarification by state officials that threat assessment teams can only access the data portal for 30-minute periods failed to address data retention or deletion requirements — meaning the repository could potentially become a permanent record that follows students their entire life.
According to a provision in the law, neither students nor their parents can access their profile in the database, which makes any necessary correction difficult to impossible.
Past mass shootings have demonstrated that the collection and sharing of information by government entities may have been able to avert a tragedy. Nonetheless, a nationwide investigation by Education Week cautions that the monitoring of students generates torrents of information with much of it ambiguous and irrelevant.
Given the data portal’s wide information net, unanswered privacy concerns raised by civil liberty groups, and the potential lifelong ramifications for students, state officials would be wise to better define the delicate line between school safety and student privacy.