Police Using School Safety Software To Punish Students?

By Doug Norrie | Published

school student monitoring

One issue that came up during the pandemic and has continued on for years now is how schools and districts can keep an eye out for any concerning behavior on the part of their students. It’s become an even more prevalent question of late, how can educators (or really anyone) head off emotional issues and violent incidents at the pass? One way was to use school safety monitoring software meant to track students’ online behavior and flag anyone who could use a check-in or possibly additional support and resources. But it appears not everyone was using this software with the intention of helping emotionally-challenged students. No, according to recent reporting it looks like police officers and law enforcement have been using the same software to punish students and increase disciplinary measures as well. 

According to reporting by The 74 Million, Baltimore school students might have seen an overreach by local law enforcement when it came to one of the school safety monitoring programs installed as part of the district’s measures. One program employed was GoGuardian, a company that promotes tech software meant to manage different devices, while also helping districts “understand” their students and “keep them safe”. But according to the latest word, this wasn’t how the Baltimore police used the software, instead logging in to track student behavior, show up at students’ homes outside of school hours, and even make arrests.

At the heart of the issue is how GoGuardian, a school safety software company, monitors students and then flags those their program deems at risk. This is done by looking at social media accounts and online activity and then, if there is an issue, it is reported to the school and administrators. This is all flagged in the system and meant to be part of the broader educational landscape. But the police appear to get involved when a student requires a wellness check outside of school hours. It is then that GoGuardian and similar services will contact the police. They are next in line after the school personnel, though admittedly aren’t trained to help in specific situations where a school safety counselor or school staff would be more appropriate.

And apparently, students have recognized this police presence in their lives as it related to the use of the school safety student monitoring software. In a survey conducted by the Center for Democracy and Technology (also via The 74 Million), 46% of students said they or someone they knew got in trouble because of the student monitoring policy. And 50% say they were contacted by police officers or other adults about having committed a crime. Additionally, this survey appeared to break down along racial lines as well with more Black and Hispanic students saying they’d been contacted by police.

With high-profile, and unbelievably tragic incidents like that in Uvalde coming more to the forefront when it comes to school safety, there have been further calls to monitor students for warning signs ahead of time. But should the police have access to software that is meant for schools to monitor educational-related policies? It would appear to be overreach though possibly more and more commonplace. If police are the ultimate arbiters of mental health, they will have a very different course of action than say trained counselors and social workers within districts. And this could become more and more of a problem.