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Florida Educators Concerned Over High Number of False Tips Coming Through School Safety App

State lawmakers are introducing legislation to allow law enforcement to track IP addresses and prosecute fake tipsters.

School administrators in Florida are becoming increasingly frustrated with the amount of false reports being sent in through a statewide app meant for school threat tips, according to a report from ABC Action News in Tampa Bay.

The app, known as Fortify Florida, allows students to submit anonymous reports letting administrators and law enforcement know about potential school shooting or violence threats. Launched in the fall of 2018 following the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, the tool was praised as a model for the rest of the country.

While the app has generated over 6,000 tips since the launch, school officials say that the majority of those take up too much time and are “erroneous.” John Newman, the chief of security and emergency management for the Hillsborough County School District, said that just under 200 tips have been received. Only around 10 were credible, he told ABC Action News.

In Pasco County, the superintendent, Kurt Browning, said that some of the 150 tips received about the district caused schools to shut down during law enforcement investigations.

“It’s just frustrating,” Browning told the news outlet. “When you do that, I will assure you there was no education going on that day. No educating of students.”

Browning even went so far as to contact the state education commissioner about the number of false tips at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, writing: "The number of kids entering bogus tips is consuming a great deal of resources. It is a total distraction for all of us.” He later submitted a formal memo of concern to the state.

Administrators and law enforcement would like to see changes with the app, which was created by AppArmor, a Canadian security company. Authorities would like a way to be able to communicate back and forth with student tipsters in the hopes that having a communication function would reduce the incentive to submit false tips.

Action may be taken soon, as state lawmakers are introducing legislation to allow law enforcement to track IP addresses of tipsters and prosecute people who knowingly submit false tips through the app.

“It’s just frustrating being the superintendent and having the responsibility to educate all our kids only to find out that it just takes a tip referencing a school and everything stops at that school,” Browning said.

About the Author

Haley Samsel is an Associate Content Editor for the Infrastructure Solutions Group at 1105 Media.