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Florida launches school security database with student discipline, health, social media info

The Department of Education said it won’t be used to “label students as potential threats."

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Department of Education rolled out its database of student information late Thursday that’s designed to enhance school security in the wake of last year’s shooting in Parkland.

The data is primarily for groups of law enforcement, counselors and other school staff charged with evaluating threats made by students and deciding which ones may need professional help.

The data portal will include information about students’ history with law enforcement, discipline as well as any social media posts that contain “certain critical threat indicators,” according to a news release. It will also include information from FortifyFL, an app created by the state to allow reporting of suspicious behavior, plus whether the student was ever “Baker-Acted,” or involuntarily committed to a mental health treatment facility under Florida law.

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The portal “will not be used to label students as potential threats,” the Department emphasized in the release, but rather as a tool to evaluate how serious reported or identified threats are.

Outside groups have questioned whether the database amounts to a violation of students’ privacy.

Last month, civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law Center and several that advocate for people with disabilities or mental illnesses, sent a letter to DeSantis saying the database amounted to an “overly broad” attempt at “mass surveillance” of students. They said this approach could discourage kids from reporting bullying incidents or problems out of fear they could be labeled as a “potential school shooter.”

They also worry about the data including whether children have been victims of bullying based on race, religion, disability, and sexual orientation, saying it would “track children based on federally protected characteristics.”

Apparently in response to those concerns, the Department clarified Thursday that “the portal does not store information about students’ race, religion, disability or sexual orientation.”

Access to the database is restricted only to personnel who have signed user agreements, and only for 30-minute viewing sessions. The data cannot be downloaded or stored, department officials said.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who has led much of the states’ school security efforts as chairman of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, emphasized how gathering all this information in a central place will help schools and law enforcement.

“You need information quickly especially to evaluate a threat, and if you have to go to the variety of sources, one, it takes a lot of time and two, there’s an opportunity that things are going to get missed. So what is a better approach is a one-stop shopping approach," he said. “The last thing we want to do is make a decision that’s wrong because we had the information, we just couldn’t access it.”

The portal’s creation was mandated by the law passed in response to the shooting, which left 17 people dead and 17 more injured, in addition to an executive order by Gov. Ron DeSantis in February. The deadline for the Department to launch the database was Thursday.

Gualtieri added that there will be a presentation about further details of the data portal at the next meeting of the commission, which is scheduled for August 14 and 15 in Broward County.