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Civil rights groups raise privacy concerns over post-Parkland school security database

The groups planned to send a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday morning.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High students Victoria Gonzalez and Liam Kiernan embrace at a memorial in front of the school Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019, during one year anniversary of the shooting deaths of 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Published Jul. 9
Updated Jul. 9

TALLAHASSEE — Civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law Center and several that advocate for people with disabilities or mental illnesses, said Tuesday that the state should re-evaluate its plan for creating an expansive database of student discipline and behavior.

In a letter scheduled to be sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis at 6 a.m. Tuesday, the 32 groups wrote that the still-developing database amounted to an “overly broad” attempt at “mass surveillance” of students that could end up discouraging kids from reporting bullying incidents or mental health needs out of fear that they could be labeled as a “potential school shooter.”

“We ask that you immediately halt the state’s construction of this database and, instead, create a commission of parents, students, and experts ... to determine whether a state database would actually help to identify school safety threats and would not pose undue harm to students,” the letter reads.

The two school safety laws passed by the state Legislature since 2018′s shooting in Parkland required that the “data repository” be created to include information from law enforcement agencies, schools, students’ social media posts, the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Department of Children and Families. That data is supposed to be shareable between those agencies, with the idea that red flags in student behavior or discipline could be detectable across bureaucratic divides.

That database is supposed to be completed by August 1.

A recent report by Education Week, which cites documents provided by the Florida Department of Education, explained more specifically what officials have considered including in the database, such as information about whether children have been victims of bullying based on race, religion, disability, and sexual orientation; have been treated for substance abuse or undergone involuntary psychiatric assessments; and if they have been in foster care.

DeSantis has been supportive of the school safety measures taken in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018. Not long after taking office, DeSantis asked for a grand jury investigation into how school districts have handled student safety and ordered a statewide audit into discipline diversion programs, such as the “PROMISE” program in Broward County.

That executive order also stated that the Department of Education “shall immediately take any and all steps necessary ... to provide a centralized, integrated data repository.”

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