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Republicans want to prevent school shootings by tracking students online, a tactic that researchers say won’t work

Senate Republicans have proposed a plan to reduce school shootings in part by incentivizing schools to surveil students and monitor their online activities.

The bill, introduced by Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, advocates for a number of disparate proposals aimed at deterring or preventing shootings, such as expediting death penalties for people who commit mass murder, cracking down on unlicensed firearms dealers, and increasing funding for local and state authorities to partner with mental health providers.

But notably, Cornyn's bill would also expand the scope of the information that online platforms are allowed to share with authorities.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.


"I've heard from countless parents who are rightfully concerned about sending their children to school amid these attacks," Cornyn said in an El Paso Times op-ed. "That should never happen. The RESPONSE Act will make schools less vulnerable through promoting best practices and internet safety policies to help schools better identify and assess students whose behavior indicates a threat of violence."

A summary of the bill also said it would "incentivize schools" to enforce policies that "detect online activities of minors who are at imminent risk of committing self-harm or extreme violence against others."

Florida has been collecting mass data on their students — and researchers say it won't work

Researchers have said there's no evidence such surveillance can predict whether students will commit shootings.

Florida, for instance, implemented a state-wide data repository after the Parkland shooting that requires school districts to collect information in a single database on students' grades, disciplinary records, teacher's notes, social media activities, and more.

The system immediately sparked criticism over students' privacy rights and concerns that certain students, such as those with disabilities or mental illnesses, might be treated unfairly.

People are brought out of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after a shooting at the school on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida.

Joe Raedle/Getty

Researchers from the Aspen Institute who studied Florida's system warned that "preventing school shootings through data is fraught with ethical and technical risks," and recommended that any such system should be accompanied by firm transparency and accountability guidelines.

Schools across the country have struggled with implementing policies to reduce the likelihood of shootings in recent years, and research has shown that some are more effective than others.

Many schools have adopted measures like dramatically ramping up active-shooter drills, arming teachers, bolstering security with metal detectors and security guards, and encouraging students and staff to report alarming behaviors or threats they encounter.