By: Jeffrey Xiang
The school will expand their reach into student’s Google Drives and will be able to scan the Google documents of students starting this fall.
The software used to scan the documents will search for words indicating plans of self-harm, plans of destruction, and other objectionable content, which will hopefully prevent harmful or dangerous actions from occurring. This system will continue the school’s policy of scanning the school’s networks to better protect students and faculty.
Dr. John Marcus, Assistant Superintendent for Information Systems and Administration for Sharon Public Schools, says that these actions will not allow him, “or anybody else, to see everything” and that the system will just send him “specific incidents that might be of concern.” He adds that the goal of these actions is to allow the school to have some oversight of the Google Drives so that the school can make sure that “kids are complying with the rules, that we’re not violating any school rules, legal issues, or things like that.”
“In the past, we have not had an effective way to find out what is happening within the Google domain other than by word of mouth or a teacher or student sharing with us. Our concern is that we have a very active Google domain with very limited oversight. This tool will help us monitor our district Google accounts but only in a very specific, limited way,” added Marcus.
“It’s [really] only sending [me] back…a red flag if it sees those three things, if it sees threats of suicide, or threats of violence, or if there’s objectionable content,” explained Marcus.
Dr. Jose Libano, principal at SHS, says that the school has “an obligation to protect our students to the best of our ability.” He adds that while there may be privacy issues, the school needs to use this power for safety reasons. “Safety, in my mind, supersedes privacy…We live in a day and age where that’s the reality.”
“No one’s sitting there, and no one has the time to sit there and go through one thousand kids Google accounts. So, it is more of a safety precaution that is in place given the day and age we live in,” added Libano.
Students at SHS are on both sides of the issue. SHS freshman Coby Jacobson agrees with Libano and says that this system could aid kids who need help. He adds that in this case safety is more important than privacy.
“I think this is great…It’s always better to be safe than sorry…It could also invade privacy, but it’s better just in case. It could save a life.”
On the other hand, SHS freshman Rahem Hamid says that the system is unnecessary and that administration does not need to “filter more for specific content.” He adds that “Dr. Marcus or other administration may have some ideas about right or wrong which not just kids, but [also] teachers, think is way overblown.”
“It’s also extremely unnecessary because no one’s going to write about self-harm on their school Google Drive. If someone was troubled enough that they would write about their experiences or their want to perform self-harm, they wouldn’t write about it on their school Google Drive. These things would be on encrypted files,” said Hamid.
Marcus says that “safety is paramount to privacy in a school setting,” and that as caretakers, the administration should use the scanning system.
“This company has given us the ability to help kids who might be in crisis or to see if there is something that is potentially dangerous to the school or to kids. Therefore, as caretakers for the students and faculty and staff of the school, we have to do something about it. To me it’s just a tool that if we didn’t use, it would almost be irresponsible,” added Marcus.
Marcus adds that the school is aware that students’ privacy should be respected and adds that the school wants to find a middle ground between safety and privacy.
“I think it’s important for students and families to know that we are very aware of how delicately we have to handle this information…and that our mission is to provide as much safety as possible while maintaining as much privacy as we can,” said Marcus.