Palm Beach County students who want to use their phones to report suspicious behavior at school now have two phone apps competing for their attention.
Last year the county school district steered students to a sheriff’s office app called StudentProtect, which allows students and adults to anonymously report threats or concerning behavior to school and law enforcement officials.
It generated about 1,200 tips countywide last year, the sheriff’s office said.
This year, a new state law requires the district to use and promote a different app: FortifyFL, operated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Like the sheriff’s office app, it allows students to report suspicious behavior and to do so anonymously if they wish. Like the sheriff’s office app, students can attach photos or videos to their report.
Last year, it generated about 1,200 tips statewide last year, according to the FDLE.
Since the district is required to use and promote FortifyFL, district officials are pitching it to students and parents as their go-to app for reporting suspicious behavior. (The law does not prohibit schools from also using StudentProtect).
Meanwhile, the sheriff’s office, which paid a West Palm Beach company to produce StudentProtect after the Parkland school shooting, argues that it is just as good an option and has no plans to discontinue it.
"We encourage students to continue to use it," sheriff’s office spokeswoman Teri Barbera said. "We know where it’s going. We have staff that’s monitoring it."
Both apps can be used by students at traditional public schools, charter schools or private schools.
Students and parents, of course, can still report threats or concerns by phone or in person. But educators think students may be more comfortable reporting anonymously over an app.
Barbera pointed out that StudentProtect is monitored 24 hours a day by sheriff’s officials, helping to ensure a rapid response.
State authorities say FortifyFL also facilitates a rapid response by automatically forwarding information to school district and law enforcement officials.
"There is no lag time, and FDLE does not make any decisions regarding where the tip goes," FDLE spokeswoman Jessica Cary said.
Unlike the sheriff’s office’s app, FortifyFL also notifies state law enforcement about potential school threats or suspicious activity.
Although state law requires FortifyFL to be promoted by all public schools, the school district and FDLE say students should feel free to use either app.
"That app is still going, and so many kids have downloaded it we’re not asking them to stop," said Claudia Shea, a school district spokeswoman. "The more tools the better."
More information about FortifyFL can be found at getfortifyfl.com.
More information about StudentProtect can be found at www.pbso.org/student-protect-palm-beach-county.
The school district this year is also unveiling a new text-alert system, EZ Texting, for special events at high schools.
At a game or another school event, attendees can text a special code to receive alerts during the event, such as notices about severe weather or emergencies.