Teenager killed in Parkland shooting inspires tool for accessible school safety data

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Students being escorted out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, after a school shooting in 2018. Credit: WINK News

A nearly $2 million grant from the University of Florida is going toward studying violence in schools in order to keep students safe, thanks, in part, to the father of a teenage boy killed in the 2018 school shooting in Parkland.

Alex Schachter was only 14 years old and a freshman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when he was killed. Four years later, there’s a dashboard called Safe Schools for Alex created to prevent incidents like that from happening again. Harns Marsh Middle School is one school that recently had a shooting threat, and this dashboard would allow schools and parents to see that. Safe Schools for Alex provides real-time intelligence regarding violent incidents at schools across Florida, and the grant from UF will let it incorporate monthly data and make the dashboard more user-friendly.

Alex’s father, Max Schachter, said their main initiative is this school safety dashboard. It was created after he found out every school in the state reports incidents of violence and drugs to the Florida Department of Education. But when he went to look at it, the information wasn’t easy to understand.

“When I went to go look at this data, I was confronted with a massive excel spreadsheet, 11 million cells of data, and there was no way that I could understand the data sorted and really use it for the purposes that it was designed,” Schachter said. “So, we created this dashboard by using publicly available data that schools report to different states across the United States and making it very user-friendly for parents.”

With this dashboard, parents and school leaders can easily compare incidents at schools nearby by just putting in a zip code. Work on the School Safety Dashboard project is beginning in the coming months and will continue through 2024.

“The goal is: By using this data and information, schools will be able to take the necessary steps to make their schools safer sourcing resources, school boards will be able to have this dashboard at their fingertips,” Schachter said. “Most school boards don’t have this kind of information available; they can get it, but they have to send an email, it takes two weeks to get the report back. But now, they’ll be able to have the information at their fingertips.”

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