School district’s new AI-based threat detection system triggers brief lockdown at Free State High

photo by: Dylan Lysen/Lawrence Journal-World

Lawrence Public Schools district offices pictured in April 2021.

The Lawrence public school district’s new threat detection system triggered a brief lockdown at Free State High on Friday after detecting threatening language in a student’s email.

District officials determined a threat had not been made, but not until a lockdown of about eight minutes occurred at the high school, the district said in a media release.

The new threat detection system, Gaggle, alerted Free State High administrators on Friday morning to a “potential student email threat,” the district said. Free State administrators locked down the school buildings as a safety precaution while they interviewed students about the threatening information. Administrators ultimately determined a threat had not been made, and lifted the lockdown, the district said.

As the Journal-World reported in September, the Lawrence school district purchased the Gaggle system, which uses artificial intelligence to look for warning signs of “concerning behavior” in the things students type, send and search for on their district-issued computers and other such devices.

Gaggle is specifically designed to scrutinize “resources” within a district’s network, such as email and online accounts, by homing in on keywords that could indicate concerning behavior when a student uses them, such as “suicide,” “self-harm,” “bomb” or “gun.” A district official said it also scans pictures, videos, attachments and links via a process that combines artificial intelligence and human moderators.

The software only monitors those devices — primarily iPads — that are owned by the district and issued to students. But that monitoring happens regardless of whether the devices are used at school, at the student’s home or elsewhere. A district official in September said that Gaggle is capable of flagging content around-the-clock.

The district began using Gaggle shortly before the recent fall break, according to a release from district spokeswoman Julie Boyle. She said it has notified district administrators of several potential safety concerns for their further investigation or follow-up since its implementation.

Specific information about what was deemed to be threatening on Friday was not released. The district said it did notify Free State staff, students, and families that an investigation had taken place and that a brief lockdown was initiated.

Despite the threat being unfounded, district officials said the “school safety management system worked as intended.”


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