New Hanover County Schools to track students’ online activity through new AI software

New Hanover County Schools announced Tuesday they’ll be using monitoring software Lightspeed Systems to monitor activity on all district-owned computers.
Published: Feb. 22, 2023 at 5:27 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - New Hanover County Schools announced Tuesday they’ll be using monitoring software Lightspeed Systems to monitor activity on all district-owned laptop and desktop computers.

“That’s all we want to do is make sure that as they’re using our devices, that they’re staying safe,” said Dawn Brinson, New Hanover County Schools’ assistant superintendent for technology and digital learning.

Being a New Hanover County mom, Sarah Goggin knows schools have a lot to handle when it comes to safety.

“The violence in schools, you know... middle school or teen ego or neighborhood drama and things like that, it probably escalates to maybe a weekly, bi-weekly issue in some schools,” said Goggin.

Living in the digital age, it’s not only classrooms and hallways where problems can arise. That’s why New Hanover County Schools is trying out a new computer program to keep an eye on student activity online.

Lightspeed Systems is a 24/7 monitoring system that will track what a student does while logged into their school-issued Gmail account. School staff says this is nothing more than a tool adding to the school’s efforts to keep kids safe.

“Self-harm, explicit content, violence and bullying are the key terms that we’re looking for,” said Brian Lantz, director of network security.

When the district notified parents by email on Tuesday, many were concerned. Goggins and another parent, Sandy Eyles, wondered why parents hadn’t been consulted before this decision was made.

“I absolutely appreciate the need for safety in our schools,” said Eyles, who has two kids in NHCS. “My biggest concern is they have not informed parents on how this data is going to be used against our children and how long it’s going to be stored.”

Lantz says that no data is recorded or stored. Instead, the AI acts in real time. For example, if a Google search is flagged, administrators will receive an image that shows what was searched and what student’s account was used to make the search.

Adding to their concerns was the worry that things could be taken out of context if monitoring is left up to an AI.

“Certain use of language to talk with friends or your family could be targeted or could be keywords that this artificial intelligence is picking up and thinking, ‘well, this sounds like bullying,’” said Goggin.

Another concern is that a student researching a controversial topic about self-harm or violence could be flagged. To some parents, though, that’s a risk they’re willing to take.

“In almost every case of self-harm or violence, there are always people saying ‘if only we knew,’“ said Cristie Halbreiner Krider, who was glad to hear about the new software. “I’d rather have my own children be investigated than to ignore it and something horrible happen.”

Administrators say not to fear. If something seems concerning, it gets flagged for a review board made of real people to look at. If the review board deems it to be a real concern, it’s passed along to a school administrator for further investigation. If it’s decided that there is no real threat, the issue is dropped.

“I am grateful to know that in some regard, they are going to have a human safeguard,” said Goggin. “Hopefully, they’re going to be refined enough to recognize the difference between research, right, and, say, bullying speech or hate speech.”

According to a contract the Board of Education approved last summer, the software costs $211,346. The entire bill is covered by an Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ESSER) grant. Schools in New Hanover County will be able to use the program through the end of the 2023-2024 school year. At that point, administrators will determine if the program was successful and if another contract will be signed.

Parents with questions about the program can contact Brinson at