By Kimberly Davis

DEPTFORD TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBS) — Most students have lost almost a year of time in the classroom, away from friends and all the in-person academic and emotional support that’s so important. A local school district is taking preventative measures to help students who may be suffering from depression because of the pandemic. The new program is using technology to identify at-risk students.

“If a student is in a situation where they’re really experiencing grief or distress that’s quite extreme, we would hope that we would get that alert and be able to take quick action,” said Deptford Township School District Coordinator of Communications Salvatore Randazzo.

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It’s a new pilot program that could potentially save lives. Deptford Township School District is taking steps to monitor students’ internet searches that could reveal a desire for self-harm.

“My dad committed suicide in 2001, and if I even had a little bit of an idea that that was going to happen I mean I think, part of me thinks that maybe I could have stopped him from doing that,” parent Heather Sedalis said.

Sedalis is a parent of a high schooler in the Deptford Township School District. She knows firsthand the pain of losing someone to suicide and is in support of the district’s new pilot program.

“God forbid my own children, Jesus, I would want to know, if they had any little bit of an idea to hurt themselves I would want to know,” she said.

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At the end of January, parents in the South Jersey school district received an email that the district would be utilizing the Lightspeed Alert System, a software that alerts administrators of keywords that indicates a student’s desire to harm themself or someone else. This software is being used on nearly 3,000 school-issued laptops.

“We’ve seen some alerts that didn’t really require a follow-up, but it’s good. We’re getting the alerts and we know it’s working and we do have staff that’s taking a look at each one that we receive,” Randazzo said.

The district’s coordinator of communication says they have not seen a significant uptick in depression within the district, but the software is a good way to be proactive.

“It could be a life-saving situation, so we’re hoping we don’t have to have any type of situation like that but if we do, we do have the resources here,” Randazzo said.

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We’re told the district was already utilizing the Lightspeed Alert System to block inappropriate websites. The district is hoping to have parents also receive the alerts soon.

Kimberly Davis