By Charly SHELTON
Glendale Unified School District has elected to once again this year take an active role in monitoring internet use by its middle and high school students in order to be aware of possible threats to students. The GUSD Board of Education voted to renew a contract with its outside contractor, Geo Listening, for the 2016-17 school year to provide this service as it has been doing since the 2013-14 school year.
“The purpose of the monitoring [is] to maintain a safe instructional environment for all students as well as provide timely social, emotional and medical support for students in crisis,” said Superintendent Winfred Roberson in his recommendation letter within the agenda of Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.
“For example, GUSD staff used this ‘high priority’ information to provide crisis intervention for students who allude to suicidal ideation,” Roberson’s letter said. “The timely response to this matter is critical in determining the student is safe and their needs are being met by their parents and health care professionals.”
The information collected is analyzed and categorized into possible threats by the algorithm, which Geo Listening staff then compiles and forwards in a daily report to GUSD administrators. This gives them the information they need to investigate more thoroughly troublesome posts.
GUSD complies with AB 1442, which protects students’ social media data from being collected and stored. According to the bill, parents must be notified of the collection policies and the data collected must be available to share with students and their families. GUSD does not store any data collected by Geo Listening unless the documentation is necessary for disciplinary or intervention purposes, and if they do store it, the students and parents are informed. Information will be sent home during this school year to inform parents and students that GUSD does monitor public social media postings.
It may sound like Big Brother is watching, but it is a necessary task in the modern world for keeping kids safe. During the last school year alone, Geo Listening reported a total of 2,255 posts to GUSD on risks from weapons, bullying, sex, self-harm, substance abuse and more.
“It is important to note that many of these violations, when investigated, were not intended to cause harm or alarm. They were instances of adolescent humor,” Roberson’s letter said. “However, it is equally important to note that there were instances when school administrators used this information to provide timely support and avoid student conflicts, postings that could place a student in a dangerous situation, and/or attempts at self-harm. This was GUSD’s intent for contracting with Geo Listening and it is the opinion of GUSD administrators that the information provided is valuable to maintain safe school environments and better serve the needs of students.”