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Longview ISD to track students tagged as violent

By Sarah Thomas
April 24, 2013 at 11 p.m.

The Longview school district will join a nationwide group that identifies students who could become violent and tracks them throughout their education - regardless of where they move.

Longview ISD officials said Wednesday the district will participate in the Student Safety National Alliance starting in the 2013-14 school year.

"What we are offering and introducing to you today is the Walmart for student safety and security," said interim district Superintendent James Wilcox.

About 70 school administrators and campus police officers from 25 school districts attended a school safety conference at the district's education safety center to learn about the alliance.

The alliance of schools maintains and shares a database to track students who have been deemed by school personnel to be potentially dangerous - capable of committing massacres such as the ones at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech and Newtown, Conn., officials said.

Profiler Dan Korem, author of "Rage of the Random Actor," said 6 percent of the nation's students exhibit random actor behavioral traits - character traits that indicate they could be violent.

He said about 50 percent of students are considered high risk.

"We're here because of what happened at Sandy Hook. If we weren't having these catastrophic acts, we wouldn't be here," Korem told school officials Wednesday.

Enrollment in the program costs districts 50 cents per student per year.

Based on the district's enrollment of about 8,700 students, the district would pay $4,350 annually to participate, said Longview ISD spokesman Adam Holland.

District officials will be able to access the searchable database to enter profiles of students whom school personnel determined to be possible threats and to see if a student's name is already in the database.

The information is available only to member school districts nationwide.

Information entered about students will follow them throughout their education - even if they move out of district or state, officials said.

The database can be used for students in grades kindergarten through college.

The database will not conflict with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act because the stored information will not be open to the public, officials said.

"This will not violate anyone's right to privacy with any act much less FERPA," Holland said.

In the Longview district, Assistant Superintendent Jody Clements and principals would be able to access the database.

Other school district administrators attending the conference said they believe the alliance has the potential to increase school safety.

Gladewater Superintendent J.P. Richardson said the program was attractive but officials his district would need more time to consider it before a decision is made.

"We will digest it and look at what we have in place that is similar to this at Gladewater ISD," Richardson said. "Student safety is upmost important next to academics in Gladewater ISD."

Mitzi Lloyd, Gladewater ISD assistant superintendent, said the potential to link all the databases together was an attractive feature.

James Skeeler, Pine Tree ISD assistant superintendent, said his district would also take joining the alliance into consideration.

"I will need to do more research and report to the board," Skeeler wrote in an email statement.

Officials with Grand Prairie ISD, a district with about 27,000 students, said they would consider contracting with the alliance.

"Having the data on kids that are so mobile is going be one of the keys to us being able to manage behavior. By knowing their background, we have a foundation instead of us having to go from ground zero and guessing about the kids background," said Grand Prairie Deputy Superintendent Vern Alexander.

The school safety alliance is not without its critics.

Branden Johnson, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, said although the database could have a positive effect on campus safety, there is a huge drawback to tagging students as troublemakers as early as kindergarten.

"On the positive side, you're able to hopefully deter any major event from happening. But you have to understand this is labeling," he said.

And Johnson believes labeling has a negative impact on children and their abilities to receive a quality education.

Although the information stored in the alliance's database is not available to the public, Johnson said there is nothing stopping a principal from discussing a student's profile in the system with his or her teacher, something he said will damage the teacher/student relationship in the classroom.

"This will adversely affect minority children, and everyone knows this, little Latino boys and girls and little African-American boys and girls," he said.

Johnson also is concerned that children who are in elementary school may end up in the system based on normal childhood outbursts, including temper tantrums.

"There is too much subjective stuff involved. How many college students had behavioral problems when they were 7 years old?" he said.

Johnson contends the new policy could become another pipeline that pushes students from school to prison, an issue that has caught the attention of community leaders across the U.S.

"But hey, if the school district thinks this will help, OK. We are dealing with elected officials. If people don't like this, they can vote those trustees right out of office," he said.

Longview ISD also is considering joining with Richardson-based Pave Systems, a data clearinghouse that provides technology based security systems, Holland said.

Ghassan Nino, Pave Systems CEO, said his company provides technology through smart devices that will allow school officials to lock down a campus from anywhere using a smart device.

"That is something we have been studying since before today. We really like the idea of being able to lock down a school from outside or inside the school," Holland said. "I think you will see that in the very near future at Longview ISD."

That same smart device will simultaneously send an alert to police and first responders.

Wilcox said the alliance's database and Pave Systems are giving school officials the tools they need to provide safer, more conducive learning environments.

"This not only provides a bigger safety net for our students, but a bigger dragnet for the random actor or person who is going to bring harm to our campus," he said.



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