An administrator monitors a hallway as part of student safety management.

Student safety management is more important than ever

School administrators navigate a tricky field of potential physical safety threats, making student safety management tools a must-have

Along with students’ increased use of and reliance on technology comes another avenue to detect risks for harmful behavior or violent attacks. School safety management systems can play an integral role in helping administrators stay on top of critical threats.

Often, it seems as if just when the nation starts to repair after one school shooting, another occurs. Students fear for their safety or fear copycats during the anniversary of attacks, and they also fear physical attacks or threats because of their race or religion.

Read more: The biggest changes to school security

And violent attacks are just one piece of the student safety management puzzle. Suicidal thoughts and self-harm, inappropriate messaging or contact with others, and reports of abuse are more common than school leaders may realize.

For instance, during the first six months of the 2018-2019 school year, 5 out of every 10,000 students threatened that they, or someone they knew, were planning a suicidal act or were engaging in self-harm. One out of every 10,000 students had planned a specific threat of violence toward others or their school.

These figures, from a report by student safety management provider Gaggle, demonstrate the importance of getting out in front of the myriad potential threats school administrators must navigate.

Gaggle’s student safety management solution uses a combination of machine learning algorithms and human safety experts to review students’ use of online tools. The solution analyzes and reviews the use of online tools within Google’s G Suite, Microsoft Office 365, and the Canvas learning management system for nearly five million students across the United States. The solution alerts school officials when students show signs of self harm, depression, thoughts of suicide, substance abuse, cyberbullying, and credible threats of violence against other students.

“The data shows that students as young as elementary school are engaging in an alarming number of behaviors that are dangerous to themselves or others. Teachers and administrators might not see the warning signs in their physical interactions with students. However, students are revealing these behaviors through the messages they send, the online documents they create, and the images they share,” according to the report.

The report offers insight into patterns or behaviors school leaders should track, regardless of the student safety management solution they use.

“We see an increase in this type of activity around the holidays, such as Christmas and Valentine’s Day. After a school shooting, we’ll see a rise in
potential threats as well. Some of this might be copycat behavior on the part of troubled students, and some is the result of greater awareness, where students are more attuned to possible warning signs,” says Mackenzie Sandack, a safety expert for Gaggle, in the report. Sandack previously counseled teens at a crisis center.

Read more: 5 new developments in physical and network safety

While potentially harmful behavior can be revealed in many ways, one trend that has emerged is students’ use of Microsoft or Google documents for journaling. Students write in those documents about emotions and experiences such as suicidal thoughts or a history of being bullied or sexually assaulted. Students are also revealing troubling secrets to their friends using a school email account or a collaborative Google Doc.

School leaders address student safety management outcomes

“Experiencing a school shooting or student suicide is every school leader’s worst nightmare. In the first six months of this school year, Gaggle has alerted us to 148 threats of violence among our 14,100 students, and five students planning self-harm. We’re grateful that we were tipped off to these threats and could act immediately to prevent a tragedy,” says Michael S. Kuhrt, superintendent of schools for Wichita Falls ISD in Texas.

School District 87 in Bloomington, IL, adopted Gaggle as part of its 1:1 computing initiative that encompasses 10 schools and about 5,500 students.

Since implementing Gaggle, the district has identified at least 6 cases where administrators believed students were heading down the path to suicide. Thanks to a Gaggle alert, the district was able to act swiftly.

“Of course, you never actually know, because the end result thankfully didn’t happen,” says Barry Reilly, the district’s superintendent. “But I’m fully convinced [Gaggle has helped us save lives].”

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