This Is What Parents Need to Know About iWatchTexas
iWatchTexas is a statewide reporting tool that students and teachers in the state are encouraged to use. It launched in 2013 as a statewide suspicious activity reporting system, but after the Santa Fe High School shooting in 2018, Governor Greg Abbott announced the expansion of iWatchTexas. Over $2 million was spent in order to expand into a separate reporting tool for school-related tips and to prevent another tragedy via school-shooting. It isn't used as an emergency system, but it only takes about 5 minutes to fill out the report and all of them are reviewed by analysts at one of eight DPS regional centers.
Not all reports are related to shootings or violence. Tipsters can alert officials to bullying, depression, eating disorders or several other types of “suspicious activity.” Tips may be added to a “threat pattern,” which allows law enforcement to track multiple reports about the same person over time.
Abbott touted the program in his 40-point school safety plan in 2018 and instructed state agencies to make reporting easier and increase awareness of iWatchTexas.
Then, during the pandemic, the Texas Education Agency stopped working with DPS to inform schools about iWatchTexas. Tragedy also struck on May 24, 2022 at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where an 18-year-old former student at the school, fatally shot nineteen students and two teachers, and wounded seventeen others.
It just... didn't work. Texas didn't require schools to adopt or promote the program, and because of that, many districts ended up using other safety programs that had proven results. iWatchTexas is an unproven school safety tool. Once state agencies stopped advancing and collaborating it faded into the darkness with a lot of wasted money in tow.
The state’s system also doesn’t adhere to some research-based practices followed by the other programs, such as student-focused training. Unlike similar tools in other states, which release data on outcomes, DPS doesn’t publicly report how iWatchTexas tips get resolved.
Despite its shortcomings, legislators set aside hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for iWatchTexas each year, and state leaders continue to back it.