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Judge sides with Corcoran on contract to help monitor social media for threats

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – An administrative law judge Monday backed Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran in a dispute about a contract to help monitor social media for threats of violence and other problems in school districts.

Judge Mary Li Creasy, in a 34-page recommended order, said Corcoran had adequate reasons for rejecting a recommendation by a Department of Education negotiation team and awarding the contract to NTT Data, Inc. Creasy rejected a joint protest filed by Abacode, LLC and ZeroFox, Inc.

The contract is rooted in a school-safety law passed in 2018 after a gunman killed 17 people and wounded 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County.

The Department of Education issued what is known as an invitation to negotiate for companies to provide a digital tool that would help school districts monitor threats of violence, signs of bullying and other issues, Creasy wrote.

The department negotiation team this spring recommended awarding the contract to Abacode, which planned to subcontract with ZeroFox. But Corcoran on April 15 issued a decision that said he was awarding the contract to NTT Data, concluding that it "provides the best value for the state," according to Creasy's recommended order.

In part, he pointed to NTT Data's price of about $3.59 million for a six-year contract term, which was nearly $1.29 million lower than Abacode's price.

He wrote that the "savings can be more effectively applied in other areas to enhance student safety."

Creasy wrote that Corcoran's "decision memorandum articulates reasonable permissible motives" for the department awarding the contract to NTT Data.

"Although reasonable persons may disagree whether, when it comes to the safety of the public school system, it is desirable to focus on cost-savings rather than maximum capabilities, the department's decision to select a viable solution based on lesser cost is well within the discretion provided law," she wrote.

Under administrative law, Creasy's recommended order will have to go back to the Department of Education for final action.