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Why we use a student-safety platform for remote learning

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When we first learned about Gaggle student-safety platform about 18 months ago, my district wasn’t ready for it. The platform analyzes school email and file storage accounts, flagging content with references to self-harm, inappropriate material and hate speech, among others. I was intrigued but not immediately sold. I wanted to know more about the platform and how it works. And frankly, I and other decision makers weren’t convinced that we needed a student-safety platform.

Fast-forward to 2020. The coronavirus pandemic hits and shutters schools across the country. Suddenly we had to figure out how to effectively protect our students who would be learning from home using district-owned devices and Office 365 / Microsoft Teams. We knew we were going to be debilitated and unable to address concerns about student safety on a daily basis. But having Gaggle on students’ devices gave us a great measure of reassurance.

Here’s what we discovered after deploying it.

  1. Students are struggling. We have already had about 15 flagged incidences where we had to intervene. As soon as we activated our administrator accounts and began training our staff, we immediately received notifications of questionable content. One case involved a student who had posted in the Teams portal chat about self-harm. We contacted the parent and student and provided a support network of counseling and other learning resources to help. Another case involved a student considering self-harm and possibly hurting someone else. We acted quickly and got into a space that we’re not normally part of -- the student’s home.
  2. Parents don’t always know. This is a difficult time for everyone, and parents are frazzled. I know that it stresses them out when they get reports about their children doing things on a computer that’s sitting right next to them on the couch or in the other room. But if we don’t tell them, they’re not going to know. If something happens, we don’t want it on our conscience that we could have done something to intervene.
  3. Relationship helps ensure student safety. District leaders need timely information that includes important details and allows them to spring into action. Our platform helps us create outreach and build personal relationships with the students and their families. This helps us ensure their continued safety as they progress through our system. 

Prior to implementing our student safety platform, we didn’t know what our students were doing online, nor did we know that there were potential problems lurking around the corner. We’re now more educated on our students’ online activity and proud to say that we now have a game plan for supporting students while they’re virtually learning from home.

Dr. Adrian Palazuelos is superintendent at Fillmore Unified School District in Fillmore, Calif. 

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