Central Texas school district adds layer of safety to student devices, detecting online threats in real-time

In its first week of using BARK, Copperas Cove ISD tallied 128 alerts
Published: Sep. 29, 2022 at 12:44 AM CDT
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COPPERAS COVE, Texas (KWTX) - A Central Texas school district is incorporating an added layer of technology to keep students safe.

The Copperas Cove Independent School District has started using a program which monitors students’ activities online and sends the district alerts about potential threats including violence, cyber bullying, suicide and more.

“We want to make sure that the district is the safest place for our kids,” said Maron Samuel, Chief Technology Officer at CCISD.

CCISD is a 1-to-1 district, meaning every single one of the district’s more than 8,300 students has a district-issued device: they all get to use it at school, and grades six and above can take it home.

Now those devices are being monitored 24/7 with new technology called Bark for Schools.

“Bark is a free tool that we use to monitor our safety for our kids at CCISD--safety and security is a critical point for us, and we believe that the school district should be a very secure area for our students,” said Samuel.

The program tracks students’ district-issued devices for all kinds of threats including self-harm/suicide, profanity, depression, bullying, sexual content, drug/alcohol related content, violence, hate speech, weapons and anxiety.

Bark will ‘bark’ at school officials by sending them alerts when one of those categories is triggered.

“Bark is able to monitor our kids by using AI, or artificial intelligence, and using languages and other tools,” said Samuel.
“Bark is able to provide the alerts that we need in real-time, and we can actually focus on making sure that our kids are safe in school.”

While the district already has other online security measures in place including firewalls, district officials say Bark is unique.

“It’s a real-time response, so we can address it immediately before it does, potentially, become a tragedy,” said Wendy Sledd, Director of Communications at Copperas Cove ISD.

Bark For Schools was developed and launched in 2018 in response to the Parkland School shooting.

According to its website, it monitors more than 6,000,000 children across the U.S. and has detected almost 630,000 severe self-harm situations and 2.6 million cases of bullying.

It’s free for school districts to use: so far more than 3,300 districts across the U.S. are taking advantage including CCISD which, through Bark, is proactively monitoring student text messages, YouTube, emails, and more than 30 different social networks for potential safety concerns, officials say.

“We monitor all our productivity suites through Office 365, as well as searches on the internet, as well as other devices,” said Samuel. “By doing that, we are able to monitor what conversations our kids are having amongst each other, we’re able to also search for reports and alerts on other critical areas that are important to our community.”

Since CCISD went live with Bark a week ago on Sept. 21, they’ve had 128 alerts across the district: mostly related to self-harm and language, and none of them have been considered major threats of violence, district officials say.

“We received a few alerts that pertains to language, suicidal thoughts, as well as other areas which we are paying very close attention to,” said Samuel. “Every campus is involved in the review process for Bark, and we are able to see, in real-time, once a student has been flagged for any security violations...we would like to make sure that they are treating each other appropriately, and using the correct languages, and not thinking about any self-harm.”

The goal is to get parents involved, too.

“Right now we are just using the in-district monitoring, but in the future we will be rolling out the parent platform so our parents are able to see the discussions, the documents, and any alerts that Bark has brought up,” said Samuel.

District officials say they’re hoping to have the parent-portal portion of Bark up-and-running before the end of the semester.

“Security is our number one priority here at CCISD, we would like to create the very best environment for our kids to learn, but we would also like to make sure that they are safe and secure and they feel their kids are in the best place at CCISD,” said Samuel.