A coalition of more than 30 advocacy groups penned a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis urging him to stop the creation of a student database aimed at spotting school shooters.
“We are deeply concerned that the program will be used to label students as threats based on data that has no documented link to violent behavior, such as data on disabilities or those seeking mental health care,” the letter stated. “We urge you to immediately halt the state’s construction of this database and, instead, create a commission of parents, students, and experts on education, privacy, security, equity, disability rights, civil rights, and school safety, to identify measures that have been demonstrated to effectively identify and mitigate school safety threats.”
The letter references an Education Week article that detailed the type of information the Florida Department of Education is considering to collect for the student database. The categories were as follows: criminal records, including unverified reports of suspicious activities, foster care records and homelessness, involuntary psychiatric evaluations and documented mental illnesses, history of substance abuse, bullying or harassment due to disability, race or religion, immunization records, and social media accounts in addition to having shown feelings of anger, persecution or desires for revenge.
“As soon as parents and students discover what data the state is using to correlate the threats, we’ll suddenly see much less reporting of bullying and harassment,” Amelia Vance, a lawyer for the Future of Privacy Forum, told the Sun Sentinel. “Kids don’t want to be in a database saying they were bullied because they were gay or Christian or have a disability.”
The discussion to create a student database came about after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Several agencies had files on the shooter but the information wasn’t shared. Proponents of the database believe knocking down those barriers could help authorities identify a threat before it happens.
“The intent is fixing a broken system that does not currently allow agencies and advocates to talk with one another to identify students who need help, notice patterns, and provide the best assistance and mental health care possible,” State Sen. Lauren Book told the Sun Sentinel.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said there is a duplicity on the part of the public who claims the signs were there to stop the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooter but don’t want a shared database over privacy concerns.
“You can’t be yelling about putting together these records and then complain about all the agencies working in silos and and signs that were missed,” Gualtieri, who is the chairman of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, told the Sun Sentinel. “You can’t have it both ways.”
For the advocacy groups, the problem isn’t in a student database, but rather a hastily created one without clearly defined parameters such as data protection or database access.
“We ask that you immediately halt the state’s construction of this database and, instead, create a commission of parents, students, and experts on education, privacy, equity, disability rights, civil rights, and school safety, to determine whether a state database would actually help to identify school safety threats and would not pose undue harm to students,” the letter stated. “This commission should also identify the legal, ethical, privacy, and security parameters that should be an integral part of this database, including the understanding that data collected to help children should not be repurposed in ways that could harm them.”
Should DeSantis not stop the creation of the database, the advocacy groups asked that the state produce data governance documents, a way for parents to contest and correct information, a deletion schedule for student information, a modified list of records that excludes information on disabilities, mental health, substance abuse and involuntary psychiatric examinations as well as a public commitment to abide by all federal and state privacy and non-discrimination laws.
Kevin Castaneda is the Managing Editor at FloridaInsider.com. His years of experience in journalism, broadcasting and multimedia include roles as a Writer and Web Producer at CBS Miami. He graduated from Florida International University with a Bachelor of Science and Communication.