Oct 12, 2022 - News

Des Moines schools install suicide alert software

A computer keyboard and mouse attached to a medical case.

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

A software program that monitors student computers for possible mental health emergencies was installed last week by Des Moines Public Schools.

Why it matters: The program will help counselors identify and respond to students who are most at risk for suicide or harm from others through threats, violence and bullying.

Details: The program, known as Beacon, monitor's a student's online activity on district devices using artificial intelligence.

  • Alerts to school staffers or parents are sent through emails, text messages or a phone call and can include screenshots for context.

Driving the news: The DMPS board in January approved $54,000 — less than $2 per student — for the program's first year, paid for with money allocated from federal pandemic grants.

  • The district announced the software's installation last week and provided parents with a FAQ sheet, including alternative options for parents with privacy concerns.

The big picture: Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among people between the ages of 15 and 19 in the U.S., according to the CDC.

  • Almost 25% of 11th graders and more than 20% of eighth graders who responded to the Iowa Department of Public Health's 2021 youth survey reported they thought about suicide in the past year.

Of note: The program also works remotely on district devices for students in virtual settings.


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