Fayette school board approves tax increase for school safety
In just three months, a company hired to monitor social media to keep Fayette County students safer has reviewed 60,947 public posts and 7,127 public images with connections to the school district and led to help for two apparently troubled young people.
So far, district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said, the company Social Sentinel has alerted Fayette County Public Schools officials to sixty three social media incidents which warranted a review by a team that included mental health and law enforcement staff.
Most of the incidents were found to be harmless, but two of those cases needed direct attention and are considered success stories, said Deffendall.
One student had posted some anti-social sentiments that weren’t necessarily threatening, but made inappropriate references to past school shootings and bullying.
The student has since received more services at school. The family responded immediately and got the student outside help. The student has joined extra-curricular activities, made connections to other students on campus, and is in support groups, Deffendall said.
In the second case, district officials were alerted to a young person talking about imminently committing suicide and determined that it was a Fayette high school graduate attending college in another state. District staff made contact with the college and officials there were able to intervene immediately and “avert a tragedy,” she said.
Deffendall said the social media safety alerts in Fayette County were in the normal range for a district of its size.
The cost of Fayette County’s contract with Social Sentinel was $71,871. District officials are evaluating the service quarterly.
The social media monitoring is part of Fayette County’s Comprehensive 10-Point Safety Investment Plan. The goal is not only to prevent a school shooting, but to mitigate risks including bullying, self-harm, suicide, drug use, and online exploitation, the district’s website said.
Last July, following a spate of gun incidents and threats, the Fayette County Public Schools board approved a property tax increase that is funding a $13.5 million initiative to make schools safer with everything from more secure buildings to more counselors to additional metal detectors.
As of this month, several improvements have been made in addition to the social media monitoring. Middle and high school students are wearing identification badges, the district has an upgraded emergency communication system, and school buildings have received improvements such as cameras and door alarms.
Walk-through detectors and staffs to help with searches have been implemented at Dunbar, Douglass, Bryan Station, and Tates Creek high schools. Work is underway at Lafayette and Henry Clay high schools,officials said this week.
School law enforcement officers have increased from 32 this time last year to 50. The district also has more mental health professionals and staff training on student behavior.