A game plan for student safety
Kelly May-Vollmar
April 10, 2019

Keeping students safe in today's internet-centric world is a tall order--one that many districts (especially large ones) are struggling to manage. And while many of us use different technologies to support this effort, we know that these tools alone are not enough. An effective strategy includes technology combined with smart practices.

Our district, Desert Sands Unified School District, in La Quinta, California, serves 30,000 students across 33 school sites. We have a one-to-one initiative in place and students in grades 2-12 can take devices home. We use Gaggle, on online student safety management platform, plus a set of strategies, to help keep our students safe, on and off campus.

Before Gaggle, we had a system that sent flagged email to a three-person Teachers on Special Assignment team. But three people monitoring a district of 30,000 students--when that’s not even their full-time job--was unrealistic. They were basically expected to monitor email all weekend long on the off chance that someone might threaten to hurt themselves or someone else. It was not a sustainable model.

Now, each school has its own contact list with multiple individuals designated to receive email warnings or phone calls from Gaggle. Our district security team is also involved in the intervention process, as is local law enforcement.

Here are the tactics we use to support this initiative:

  1. Make students the first line of defense. Unless the situation calls for more drastic measures, when something happens, students are notified by Gaggle. For example, if students create inappropriate emails or documents, they receive an instant warning about it. This immediately helps them understand that what they're doing is not acceptable behavior.
  2. Leverage discipline matrixes. We have a district-wide acceptable technology use policy but every school has its own procedures and practices for enforcing that policy. Once the school site administrator is notified, he or she can see where the incident falls within the discipline matrix and respond accordingly. The discipline matrix is useful because it removes a great deal of the ambiguity out of the process, and it helps provide consistency with what needs to be done and not over- or underreact. 
  3. Take holistic views of the student. We rely on the system to look at the entire picture of each student and to help us make good decisions based on that data. If a student is going through a traumatic experience, for example, we can intervene quickly. If, however, a student who has never before been flagged was sent an inappropriate email, then perhaps he or she just made one poor choice. Because of the way our system is set up, we can bring all of the right people onboard to help make sure that we're getting all students what they need in terms of online safety.
  4. Use district snapshots to see how we are doing. Along with individual event alerts, we also want to know how our schools and our district are doing overall. I can go into our safety management platform and get a district view of how we're doing, with our incidents broken down by group, such as inappropriate behavior, possible situations, nothing imminent and so forth. This helps us make decisions about what needs to be addressed and when--beginning of the school year, midyear, end of the year. I get a really quick view of what's going on, the prominent events that are occurring, and how frequently they’re happening. We have a useful tool for creating the right climate and culture that we need to be able to help curb behavior, and not just respond to it as it happens. 

Kelly May-Vollmar, Ed.D., is chief innovation and information officer at Desert Sands Unified School District, in La Quinta, Calif.

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