We live in a society where student safety and privacy have become core responsibilities for school districts nationwide. They’ve always been there, but with recent tragedies and incidents, the safety factor is more important than ever.

The issue is two-pronged: we have to be able to protect our students while they’re on campus (the “physical security” aspect) and also make sure that we’re paying close attention to potential mental health issues.

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This is a difficult balance to strike in a world where we also have to follow strict student privacy guidelines and adhere to a myriad of other rules and regulations. The good news is that technology is serving as a great enabler in helping us more quickly identify and address issues before they turn into major problems.

Using this proactive approach, we’ve been able to intervene in situations that could have easily escalated, had they not been tended to early.

Here’s how we’re doing it:

1) Invest in a student safety platform. We’ve been using Gaggle for years and we continue to invest in this solution as a way to monitor student safety. That includes physical safety and mental health safety, both of which are high priorities for our district. Our technology platform ensures the safety and wellbeing of our students by monitoring their school-issued email and drive accounts 24/7. It does this in a way that balances the protection of student privacy with the need to keep them safe both on and off campus.

2) Use an age-appropriate digital curriculum. At least three times a year, all of our K-12 students get age-appropriate digital citizenship education that’s embedded into the curriculum. When they’re working online, students know that the student safety management platform is watching and monitoring their work. According to our last analysis, there was an increase in the number of items that were being flagged—an increase that we chalk up to our increased technology use. We’re buying additional laptops, using additional software tools, and showing more teachers how to use the Google apps in their classrooms. This is all adding to the increase, but we clearly still have work to do in this area.

3) Create an interactive acceptable use policy. We also have a very interactive acceptable use policy approach that spells out the “right and wrong” of online activity when utilizing the district’s technology. Instead of just sending home a stack of forms that may or may not get read, our teachers talk about our acceptable use policy with students at an age-appropriate level, and spend face-to-face time talking about what it means with those students. We’re very clear about the reason behind our monitoring, and how that monitoring takes place within well-defined, legitimate, and secure parameters. It’s not like just anyone in the district can see the alerts; only a very small number of people get them, and they all have our students’ educational interests at heart.

4) Listen closely for those cries for help. When we started rolling out a 1:1 program for grades 4-12, we knew that we needed to step up our online monitoring approach. Now, we’re catching some very scary things that could have turned into real problems. This just reiterates the need for monitoring, which not only enhances physical safety but that also helps on the mental health side. A lot of the issues we’re catching are self-harm references, and some of them are clear cries for help.

5) Use it as a learning experience for students. If we’ve stopped just one tragic event from happening, then that’s definitely worth the investment in our student safety platform. But even the minor issues present an opportunity to share a learning experience with students within the context of school—versus out in the “real world.” When we catch students doing something inappropriate online, it’s the perfect opportunity for educating them about why they wouldn’t want to do that and how they were putting themselves in danger. These are valuable lessons for this day and age.

About the Author:

Sarah Trimble-Oliver is Chief Information Officer at Cincinnati Public Schools.


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