Civil Rights, Disabilities, Mental Illnesses Advocacy Groups Oppose Florida Database

Civil Rights, Disabilities, Mental Illnesses Advocacy Groups Oppose Florida Database

Thirty-two advocacy organizations are fighting a plan that calls for a Florida state database to prevent school shootings. They have written a letter explaining why they disagree with the bill.

A new Florida state database is intended to prevent school shootings, but 32 advocacy organizations disagree and have written a letter to Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis explaining why the program could be more harmful than helpful.

The organizations include civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law center, and several that advocate for people with disabilities or mental illnesses.

“We ask that you immediately halt the state’s construction of this database and, instead, create a commission of parents, students, and experts … to determine whether a state database would actually help to identify school safety threats and would not pose undue harm to students,” the letter states.

The letter continues on to explain that this attempt at mass surveillance of students could discourage students from reporting bullying, other instances of violence, or mental health needs based on the fear they could be labeled as a potential threat to the school.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, there were two school safety laws passed by the state Legislator following 2018’s shooting in Parkland that require this “data repository.” It would be built to include information from law enforcement agencies, schools, students’ social media posts, the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Department of Children and Families. All this information would be collected and shared between agencies under the assumption that it would help identify red flags. In addition, the database could be collecting whether children have been victims of bullying based on race, religion, disability, and sexual orientation; have been treated for substance abuse or undergone involuntary psychiatric assessments; and if they have been in foster care. It is scheduled to be completed by August 1.

According to Education Week, the database was supposed to be operational six months ago, but bureaucratic delays and concerns over exactly how much sensitive information can legally be shared put its introduction on hold.

Stephanie Langer, a lawyer with the Miami-based Disability Independence Group Inc., said she believes that the database could create more problems for students through stigmatization.

“Kids who have a meltdown at school are already being arrested, suspended, Baker Acted, pushed out of school,” Langer said. “When they want to get rid of a kid, they call them a safety risk. This database is going to give them permission to do more of that.”

The letter says that the organizations are concerned this database could pose a risk by labeling students as threats when they are not.

“We are deeply concerned that the program will be used to label students as threats based on data that has no documented link to violent behavior,” the letter says. “We believe this database represents a significant safety risk.”

Digital Edition

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    September/October 2019

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