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How Texas Could Monitor Students’ Social Media Posts More Closely

“To look at it as sort of  a panacea to school violence, or bullying or students at risk of suicide is kind of short-sighted.”

Santa Fe students takes part in a roundtable discussion in Austin, Texas, Thursday, May 24, 2018, hosted by Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott to address safety and security at Texas schools in the wake of the shooting at Santa Fe, Texas.

Law enforcement plans to watch students’ social media more closely after the Santa Fe High School shooting, since Governor Greg Abbott wants to use technology to find threats online as part of his school safety plan.

In his plan released last week, Abbott wants people to use a new state developed app, called iWatch. It will be launched this month by the Texas Department of Public Safety. It lets people report suspicious behavior and then alerts law enforcement.

However, some schools already monitor what students say on social media. The Spring Independent School District uses a program called Social Sentinel and Katy ISD recently decided to it as well.

The technology scans for threatening words online and sends alerts to district officials. Spring’s spokeswoman Karen Garrison said in an email that the district also plans to use funds from its recent $330 million bond package to upgrade its surveillance camera system.

But David McGeary with the Harris County Department of Education told News 88.7 an old fashioned approach could be more effective in “curbing behaviors that can lead to violent outbursts or that can lead to critical events.”

And those, he said, are still largely face-to-face rather than social, so building positive relationships inside of the school could mitigate risk more than anonymous reporting apps or social media scanning.

“To look at it as sort of  a panacea to school violence, or bullying or students at risk of suicide is kind of short-sighted. I think you do have to sort of take this multi-paneled approach to mitigating risk, but that starts with relationships in the schools and you build technology to layer on top of everything else,” McGeary said.

That’s why many students and educators want to see more counselors in schools, something that Texas law doesn’t require.

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Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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