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Rural Missouri school districts will be scanning their servers for signs of planned violence

With schools closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, students have had to adapt to trying to keep up with lessons remotely, from living rooms, kitchen tables and bedrooms.
Nat Thomas
St. Louis Public Radio
A new program will have software scan school servers and internet traffic for signs of violence.

Dozens of rural school districts across Missouri will use specialized software to scan their servers and Wi-Fi internet traffic looking for signs of students who may hurt themselves or others.

The Department of Justice is giving $2 million to the districts to purchase software and train staff to use it.

“It monitors everything from images or videos to words that are written. And when it detects these threats it alerts school personnel,” said Keith Herman, an education professor at the University of Missouri, which is administering the grant.

The software, called LearnSafe, was developed by Alabama-based tech company SlateXP. It has been used in school districts around the country.

“These types of activities do happen at school while students are connected to the internet, and they have been successful in detecting a wide number of threats in the districts that have been using these systems,” Herman said.

“We have worked with law enforcement on cases that we have gleaned information we have gotten from LearnSafe,” said Andy Gatewood, director of safety and security for the Mobile County Public School System.

The grant money will fund a total of 26 rural school districts around the state. Herman said 20 of them are confirmed, but it will be up to each district to decide whether it wants the participation to be made public.

In addition to the software, the grant will pay for training for each school to set up a threat assessment team.

Herman said that while stopping violence is the immediate goal, the hope is that schools will be able to use the information to make long-lasting changes to address violence, “where they are improving the relationships among teachers and among students so that it’s a healthy positive environment where threats are less likely to happen in the first place.”

While 26 districts will receive the software, Herman said the data and information collected will assist the university as it works with other school districts.

“At the end of the project we’re going to have a long list of the types of threats that were detected and how the schools responded to them as an example of a more systematic way to engage in these threats and preventing them than they have currently,” Herman said.

Jonathan is the Rolla correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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