School district software monitors students’ online activity, helps prevent tragedies

Nearly 200 of the 1,200 school districts in Texas utilize this software

School districts in the San Antonio area and throughout the state are monitoring students’ online activity and looking for threatening comments through software such as Social Sentinel or Gaggle.

Nearly 200 of the 1,200 school districts in Texas use software similar to Social Sentinel or Gaggle, including two San Antonio-area school districts.

Northeast ISD Police Chief Wally McCampbell said in one instance, a student typed a ‘disturbed’ suicidal note in their student email and within minutes, school district officials were notified through Social Sentinel. Then the student was directed to mental health resources.

“When confronted, the student said, ‘Yeah, I was really considering it,’ which surprised the parents. They had no idea. So they were really appreciative that we were monitoring it and saw it and we were notified so we could go out and prevent a tragedy,” McCampbell said.

Social Sentinel only tracks public posts made within the geographical boundaries of Northeast ISD. It can also monitor students’ emails.

In comparison, Seguin ISD uses a similar software called Gaggle. However, Seguin ISD Police Chief Matthew Gutierrez said it only monitors activity in students’ email and Google Drive.

“It is a huge bank of language that it uses to really make that threat assessment and make a determination that this is something that the campus needs to be aware of,” Gutierrez said.

Both district police chiefs’ said the software has proven helpful in preventing a crisis.

“It allows schools to be very timely in their response and possibly save lives and prevent something tragic from happening,” Gutierrez said.

“It’s worth every penny because one life saved is worth partnering with. If not Social Sentinel, another type of company that does the same thing because we’re all here to do the same thing and that saves lives,” McCampbell said.

However, the software, though helpful, is not perfect.

Uvalde CISD was using Social Sentinel before the shooting at Robb Elementary in late May. The gunman’s digital footprint went undetected by the software because he sent his threats through private messages or on a private account. Those threats went unreported.

McCampbell said that is why it’s important for students and parents to fill in the gaps of technology.

“If I send you a message privately that I’m going to go shoot up the school tomorrow, nobody else is going to see that unless you report it. And that’s, that’s the difference,” McCampbell said.

Gaggle costs Seguin ISD nearly $20,000 a year.

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