As IT teams prepare for the coming school year, now is a good time to incorporate discrimination monitoring

The discussion about discrimination in the United States has moved onto center stage. Our country has been rocked by protests related to discriminatory police action. The Black Lives Matter movement is front and center. Everyone from protesters to police are “taking a knee” in support of justice for victims of discrimination.

In other news, the Supreme Court recently issued a landmark decision to protect the LGBTQ community from employment discrimination based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The Court ruled that Title VII prohibits discrimination based on sex, and that firing an employee because of homosexuality or transgender status violates the Civil Rights Act.

What do these events mean for K-12 schools? Hopefully, not much they already welcome all students and treat them equally. But there is also evidence that this may not be true. Now is a perfect time to take an introspective look at school processes and procedures.

For IT leaders, that includes considering how school technology may be perpetuating discrimination, either latently or overtly. There are many manifestations of inequality in school technology, and we aren’t going to attempt to cover them all here—there are much better and more qualified experts on this subject.

We are going to talk about how K-12 IT teams can incorporate monitoring for discriminatory behavior in district cloud apps and why they might want to. If your school district is using G Suite or Microsoft 365 in the coming year, incorporating discrimination monitoring into your overall cyber safety monitoring may be a relatively easy step. Discrimination monitoring will help you avoid school technology from being used for discriminatory cyberbullying under the radar.

Discrimination Compliance in K-12 School Technology

K-12 schools that receive federal funds from the Department of Education (ED) must comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National Origin
  • Sex
  • Disability

The mission of the ED’s Office for Civil Rights is to “ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence through vigorous enforcement of civil rights in our nation’s schools.” Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, education programs and activities such as admissions, recruitment, financial aid, academic programs, student treatment and services, counseling and guidance, discipline, classroom assignment, grading, vocational education, recreation, physical education, athletics, housing and employment must operate in a non-discriminatory manner.

Further, The Department of Education published a fact sheet regarding COVID-19, remote learning, and protecting the civil rights of students in March 2020. The document outlines districts’ responsibilities to take appropriate action to reports of bullying and harassment of students based on disability, race, color, or national origin. With 60% of school districts planning for hybrid learning in the coming school year, administrators can expect even more bullying to take place online than ever before.

Promoting Good Digital Citizenship in Hybrid Learning

Discrimination monitoring can help districts improve their anti-bullying and digital citizenship programs for students. Being able to detect discriminatory text and behaviors in digital environments helps to inform administrators what they may need to focus the curriculum on.

Again, this is going to be particularly important as schools rely more on digital learning environments such as Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, Schoology, and others. Cyberbullying was already an issue for many school districts when students were in class. As they spend more time online and become more used to communicating with each other on these platforms, there is a very real possibility that cyberbullying incidents will increase.

Monitoring for discrimination, cyberbullying, and other student safety issues will help districts adjust their programs to current needs and future trends to promote good digital citizenship in their students. This will not only improve students’ digital literacy skills, but will also help keep your schools an inclusive place to learn and grow—online, offline, and anywhere in between.

Reinforce Digital Citizenship Rules in the Physical World

Discrimination monitoring and, more specifically, the learning programs it can help enable will also help reinforce good citizenship in the “physical” world.

Besides regulatory compliance and digital citizenship, K-12 schools should incorporate discrimination monitoring to make sure that you’re protecting the health and wellbeing of your students. You certainly know that bullying of any type can cause stress, depression, social anxiety, violence towards others, and self-harm.

There are also negative results for the student doing the bullying. Whenever possible, it’s best to make these incidents a teachable moment for the person who is discriminating against others. This helps improve the student’s empathy and citizenship in ways that can impact them for the rest of their lives. Further, teachers and administrators don’t want to let a student’s misunderstanding or poor judgment follow them for the rest of their lives.

When students are good digital citizens, it will have an impact on how they interact with others in face-to-face situations. Teaching non-discrimination in digital communications and good digital citizenship will certainly lead to creating a more welcoming culture in schools and communities where everyone gets treated equally.

Discrimination Monitoring and Student Data Privacy

Monitoring students’ online behavior has become a contentious topic in recent years. Students and parents are concerned about for-profit companies building data profiles around individuals and if incidents will haunt a student’s future college and employment prospects. At the same time, school districts are under increasing pressure to protect students from violence, cyberbullying, sexual exploitation, and more.

Both concerns are valid, and districts and parents need to be able to work together to decide what is best for their specific schools and communities. Schools that opt to use student safety vendors that collect and store information on students need to do so with caution. Not only could those vendors be vulnerable to data breaches that expose student information, but the information could also be used for commercial purposes.

IT leaders and administrators need to make sure that they thoroughly vet any EdTech vendor’s privacy policy and terms of service. They should also make sure that vendors are student data privacy certified by third party organizations, such as iKeepSafe and the Student Privacy Pledge.

ManagedMethods uses APIs to monitor school cloud applications (mainly G Suite and Microsoft 365) for both cybersecurity risks and student safety signals. The platform is not a content filter, and it doesn’t collect or store any data. It simply sits within the cloud application and alerts administrators to potential issues based on role assignments. ManagedMethods can help districts take a step in the right direction with discrimination monitoring in hybrid learning environments without putting student information at risk.

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