students using computers

New Tech Program Identifies ‘High Risk Words,’ Potential Threats In Student Communications

A Tennessee district uses the program Gaggle to track and identify suicide and violence threats in communications on the school system.

A new program has already helped one school district protect its students from carrying out acts of suicide or violence. Because it scans the school’s internet server, not students’ personal devices, the program has legal ability to scan for red flags and keywords that indicate potential harm.

Gaggle uses a mathematical algorithm to identify high risk words and phrases within the district server, MyPlace, which students use to communicate with teachers and one another. It functions as if a teacher intercepted a note from student to student with concerning content.

Gaggle has already identified dozens of tips for potential harm in Williamson County School District in Tennessee, among other communities. This is significant, considering the high number of adolescents that struggle with suicidal or violent thoughts.

The system scans emails, assignments, and chats, and it can differentiate between actual potential threats and school assignments using violence-related language, said Williamson County Superintendent Jason Golden.

“If it’s an essay about war or killing, the program is able to differentiate that as [a class assignment rather than] a warning or a cry for help,” Golden told The Nashville Tennesseean.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for 10- to 24-year-olds. In the 2018-19 school year, Gaggle reports that its program helped school districts save 722 students from carrying out an act of suicide.

A Gaggle report found that during the first six months of the 2018-19 academic year, five out of every 10,000 students threatened that they—or someone they knew—were planning a suicidal act or were engaging in self harm, while one out of every 10,000 students planned a threat of violence toward others.

Since Gaggle’s start, about 1,200 school districts have partnered with the “safety solutions” company, said Jeff Patterson, Gaggle CEO, in a May press release.

“Gaggle is on the frontline protecting nearly 5 million students against cyberbullying, self-harm, offensive content and many other harmful situations,” Patterson said.

Using the program is making Williamson administrators “more cognizant” of their students, Golden said.

“It’s no different than teachers intervening in passing a note … or like an employer when it’s on our system, we have access to it.”

About the Author

Amanda Smiley is an Associate Content Editor for the Infrastructure Solutions Group at 1105 Media.