With student safety and security as one of its key district goals, Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Florida, found itself in unfamiliar territory when the state shut down schools for the remainder of the 2019–20 year as a result of the pandemic. Not only did it need a way for teachers to interact effectively with students online, but it also now needed to ensure users’ safety as they navigated this “new normal” learning environment.
Fortunately, Duval already had the Gaggle student safety platform in place and had been using it successfully for about seven years. When the district started using Microsoft Teams in conjunction with Office 365 for remote learners, Duval once again turned to Gaggle for help upholding its commitment to student safety and security.
“With COVID-19, we had to transition our brick-and-mortar safety and security over to the digital/online environment,” said Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene. “We actually saw Gaggle work on the first day that Duval HomeRoom (the district’s online learning platform) opened. A situation came up and we were able to learn what was happening and who was involved, and then solve the situation very quickly.”
In this instance, a parent emailed Dr. Greene to tell her that a teacher had posted something inappropriate online. Within minutes, the district’s CIO determined that a student (the child of that parent) had posted the information online and “masked it” as if the teacher had said it.
“We implemented our normal procedures, with the dean calling the parent to discuss the issue,” said Greene, “and to show the parent how the student used the system to post the information on the teacher’s behalf.”
Filling in the Gaps
Using Office 365 for email, OneDrive for file sharing, and Microsoft Teams for online conferencing, Duval already had about 1,200 “innovative educators” on its team before the pandemic. “We very rapidly moved the rest of the district to Office 365 and Teams when it became necessary,” said Jim Culbert, the district’s CIO. “Although we had already been using Gaggle for years for Office 365 and OneDrive, we then added Gaggle monitoring for Teams as well.”
Concurrently, the district began assessing its role in this “new frontier” in learning and trying to figure out what responsibilities it held as a district. “Gaggle helps us meet that challenge,” said Dr. Greene. “When we have issues—and sometimes these are issues that students may not want to tell anyone about, but they do need to tell someone—Gaggle gives us an alert.” Once alerted, district personnel can provide the right level of support to those students.
According to Culbert, the district noticed a dramatic increase in screen time and online communications when the learning moved off campus. This increase was logical and warranted, but the lack of face-to-face content with teachers and with one another presented new challenges for the district.
Gaggle is helping to fill in some of those gaps by alerting the district when potential problems and emotional wellness issues arise among its large student base. “If students engage in inappropriate conversation online, Gaggle is there to be the protector,” said Culbert. “Where there is always a school safety officer walking the hallways in our physical school, Gaggle serves as that protector online.”
The incident on day one raised the district’s awareness of the importance of monitoring what students were saying online. “When they’re reaching out for help—very often just between each other—it gives us an indication that we need to provide additional support,” said Culbert. “Gaggle’s been able to help us identify those students and then reach out to them—and to assist them.”
The Second Set of Eyes
To other district leaders operating in new territory thanks to COVID-19, Dr. Greene said having a student safety platform in place gives students access to rich content while ensuring that their online conversations and contributions are both positive and productive. When they’re not, Gaggle steps in to identify the issue, alert the district, and take the appropriate measures to keep students safe and secure.
“We can’t just allow the online learning space to be like the wild, Wild West,” Dr. Greene added. “It needs to be a space that’s respected and no different than it would be for the student who is in a physical classroom. Gaggle is the second set of eyes we need to be able to manage that.”