We all want students to be safe in school. As 2020 state legislative sessions continue, and as incidents threatening student safety continue to plague our schools, states are taking action. While Florida was the first state to take legislative action to ensure school safety, its solution is problematic. And as the state works to implement the law, privacy leaders are raising new concerns. The state is creating a database that will collect information about sensitive information such as data on disabilities and young people’s social media use. Florida’s law enables the state to then share that information with state employees, schools, and law enforcement – an approach that is potentially harmful to the students they intend to protect. Although policymakers across the country should be encouraged to find solutions that ensure student safety, they must find new ways to address this issue.
So what should states do?
Let’s start with the Student Data Principles: data should only be used to help students and never to harm them. Rushing the process of adopting new security measures could hurt students without measurably contributing to school safety. Before ramping up data collection in schools, state policymakers should consider the real effects and unintended consequences of these measures on students and families, and take steps to mitigate them.
As DQC’s own Rachel Anderson wrote previously, states must lay out the questions they want to answer, and build the system that’s right for them. It’s important to understand how this data is going to be used to support students, not punish or stigmatize them. This question is especially important in the case of marginalized or underrepresented student groups who are more likely to be targeted in systems like Florida’s.
States must also involve the community in conversations about how best to protect their students. Engaging with parents about safety initiatives, getting their feedback and, most importantly, incorporating that feedback into decisions that affect their students are all crucial parts of this process. Communities should have knowledge of proposed initiatives and have a chance to shape solutions.
This feels like new territory – but it’s not. States should lean on existing data governance processes that are already in place – and that work – to decide what data is appropriate to collect, how it should be used, and who has access to it. Once the state has answered questions about how the data is going to make schools safer, what is necessary to collect, who needs to see it, and how teachers, counselors, and administrators will know how to use it, states can be sure they are choosing the right initiatives that will benefit – and ensure the safety of – all students.
Student safety is a school’s #1 priority – and states are right to take action to keep students safe. But first, state leaders must think about the solutions that are right for students before moving full speed ahead towards school safety laws and initiatives that are potentially harmful to students.
This blog post is also available as a story on Medium.