ENCINITAS — The Encinitas Union School District’s IT department is working with a cybersecurity firm to monitor and report potential self-harm behaviors in students’ internet activity at school.
In the five years since work began on expanding a tool that blocks students from viewing explicit content while operating school computers, the software has become a more efficient aid to preventing self-harm and suicide.
In one case, “Twenty minutes before school dismissal, alerts came in of a child searching for the ‘fastest way to kill themself,’” Nathan Short, director of information technology at EUSD, said in a statement. “While monitoring in real-time, the searches progressed from ‘nearby tall buildings’ and ‘nearby cliffs’ to directions to a specific cliff within walking distance of the school. The high-risk intel coupled with the district’s rapid response prevented a student from taking their life.”
In partnership with iboss, a cloud security provider, the software monitors activity on school-owned devices and stores the data in its secure server where only authorized school and district personnel can view it. The technology works in tandem with other efforts to support student mental health, such as on-site psychologists, social-emotional learning teachers and counselors.
Self-harm alerts increased when students were isolated from their peers as a result of COVID-19 safety measures.
“Negative experiences can go unnoticed, particularly as online learning becomes more common,” Richard Quinones of iboss said in a statement.
According to a year-long study of self-harm behaviors in about 4,000 adolescents between 12 and 16 years old, one in four reported having self-harm thoughts and one in six reported engaging in self-harm behavior in the year studied.
“Self-harm is already established by 12/13 years of age,” the study found.
While the study found self-harm amongst adolescents is common, parents contacted by the district’s psychology team were often surprised to learn about indicators of self-harm associated with their child.
“When we can identify signs that a student is struggling online with their mental health, our team, alongside parents and other supportive resources, can move in swiftly to get the student the help and support they need,” Short said. “The earlier we take action to connect these students with appropriate mental health services, the better the outcome that we can expect.”