It’s one thing when a student safety platform catches someone using profanity online, viewing inappropriate content, or threatening others through bullying. But when the same platforms are used by students who want to share vital information—but who are afraid to do it face-to-face or through another forum—these platforms prove their value on a completely different level.
That’s exactly what happened recently at Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS), a 45,000-student district that’s been using Gaggle since 2015. Wanting to alert an adult to the situation, but fearing retaliation and retribution, a student wrote something inappropriate in a Google doc knowing that the student safety platform would catch it.
“It was brilliant,” said Eric Hileman, Executive Director of Information Technology. “She needed to rat somebody out, so she put it in a Google doc, and it got caught.” Gaggle sent an alert to the school’s principal, who investigated immediately. “Yeah, I was hoping you would see that,” the student told him. “She didn’t want to come straight out and call out the behavior, so she let the system catch it,” said Hileman. “It worked perfectly, and no one was any wiser. That’s just smart.”
Mr. Hileman said this is just one example of how Oklahoma City Public Schools is working to provide a safe place for students—both online and offline. “The physical brick-and-mortar can be secured with locks and made only accessible to the right people,” he added. “That also has to transcend into the online space.”
With 55 neighborhood elementary schools, 16 secondary schools, two alternative schools, and 16 charter schools located within 135.5 square miles in the center of Oklahoma, OKCPS implemented Gaggle around the same time that it started offering its students email capabilities. College-readiness was a key driver, according to Mr. Hileman, who said “we wanted to provide that service, knowing that graduates would have to be able to operate in the modern workplace.”
The idea was that kids would not only learn a new skillset and how to send and manage email, but they’d also learn how to do it in a safe and professional manner. “The concern was how to monitor 45,000 new ‘customers’ without an increase in staff or resources,” added, Mr. Hileman. “We needed a service like Gaggle because monitoring 45,000 new accounts would quickly become a full-time job for multiple staff members. There’s no way we could do that.”
Since being implemented for the 2015-16 school year, Gaggle has proven its worth on numerous occasions. The first major “find” came during the platform’s first year in use, when a 9th-grade special needs student detailed how he was going to “bring a machine gun to school and shoot every kid and not feel any remorse about it” in a Google doc.
When the alert came in from Gaggle, OKCPS’ safety team and the school’s principal quickly came up with an interception plan. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. The student had been a given an assignment on the movie The Purge, which openly talks about such acts. “He was just the sweetest kid ever,” states Mr. Hileman, “and it was a classroom assignment that he was working on.”
Mr. Hileman said the student safety platform has also picked up on a wide variety of “trauma bonding” issues (i.e., parental drug abuse, sexual abuse, etc.) that OKCPS has been able to bring to the attention of teachers and counselors. “Gaggle gives our principals and counselors levels of insight that they wouldn’t normally have,” concluded Mr. Hileman, “and evidence to support some of their gut feelings.”