Jul 31, 2018
ELW

The National Pulse – Students’ Privacy Under Serious Threat in Era of School Shootings

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This article discusses two federal School Safety Commission meetings dealing with school safety as well as efforts in Florida since the February shooting in Parkland, Florida and how these efforts can and will damage data privacy:

Only one of the three witnesses at the July 11th hearing thought that inappropriate data sharing would hinder students from seeking mental health help. No one discussed the many other dangers of having behavioral and mental health data, especially subjective and often inaccurate screening data collected by minimally trained school personnel reside in longitudinal databases for life. These will be further discussed in a moment.

Another disturbing and related set of developments are the multiple ways that data privacy is being violated in the newly enacted Florida school safety law. These include requiring students to admit any mental health diagnoses, accurate or not, on their beginning-of-year school forms and the new law’s requirement to develop a “centralized integrated data repository and data analytics resource.”

The diagnosis disclosure mandate is a major medical privacy violation, potentially opening students to unwarranted and unwelcome scrutiny by school personnel and law enforcement. Additionally, psychiatric researchers have found that the vast majority (93 percent, according to one study) of the mentally ill will not become violent and that there is no good way to predict which patients will become violent.

The centralized data repository and analytics resource is a euphemism for Big Brother-style monitoring of social media, along with behavioral and mental health data, to allegedly stop threats before they happen. In addition to the grave privacy doubts raised by experts, there is no evidence that this approach even works.

The Miami-Dade school district, neighbor to the Broward district where the Parkland shooting happened, received a $4.6 million grant in 2014 from the U.S. Department of Justice to implement this scheme on a district level. There is now no trace of it on the Miami School Police website. The program ran through the end of 2017 and is being studied by education research company WestEd. Likely possibilities are that the study is not completed yet, the program was a complete failure, or they ran out of money and this new law will be a new funding source. It was extensively described before being taken down

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