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Voices: Stop the spread of misinformation in Dougco

Dougco schools parent Beth Kerr is the latest to weigh in on CORAgate. She says students emails and personal information are safe, despite some accounts to the contrary.

I write this in response to the article Protect our kids from inappropriate emails by Karin Piper, employee and founder of Parent Led Reform and the article Bullied by special interest groups in Dougco by DCSD Board Director Justin Williams.

I am a mom of two students in Douglas County, a volunteer within the school district and now am one of the 19 that Parent Led Reform requested to be investigated by the Dougco school board.

I feel it is time to help stop the misinformation that is being spread by Parent Led Reform over the issue of “messaging shared with students via their school Google accounts” and by Board Director Justin Williams, who states that emails were “posted directly in student school district Google accounts.”

I requested to meet with Board Director Kevin Larsen, Dougco Legal Counsel Rob Ross and IT Director Dwight Humphrey, and am very appreciative that they accommodated that request. I would like to share my findings from that meeting.

Mr. Humphrey explained that no documents were uploaded to the district network, to any Google Docs drive or any shared folder drives. In the world of Google docs, the particular item to which Ms. Piper and Mr. Williams refer regarding one student Google Doc account is not even a document. It is a link to a document to which anyone on the internet has access. Director Larsen explained it like a “bookmark” on Google docs. According to Mr. Humphrey, nothing was uploaded or removed from an account. According to Mr. Ross, to the district’s knowledge the link was not circulated.

Let’s examine the quotes listed above from the Parent Led Reform article and Director Williams’ article. Both mention Google Docs “accounts” – plural and Parent Led Reform mentions “students” – plural. According to Mr. Humphrey and Mr. Ross, there was only ONE student Google Doc account in question. Not multiple, not many – only one. Following are quotes I received via email from Rob Ross: “I only know of the one allegation that PLR brought forward to the BoE.” And, “There is no information I have from PLR (or anywhere else for that matter) to confirm “35 accounts” allegation.”

Let’s look further into how something got onto a student’s Google doc account. Since I do not have a Google Doc account, I went to the experts, my kiddos, who showed me how Google Docs works. In a matter of minutes, we were able to recreate the screenshot that was submitted to the BOE on Sept. 5 by Parent Led Reform.

Nothing uploaded to student email or Google Doc account

According to the district, there is no evidence that an outside individual or organization has uploaded anything to any student email or Google Doc account.

I made a request that the district publish a statement to alleviate any concerns parents may have over this situation. The email response I received from Mr. Ross was, “I will likely recommend to the board that findings we make about the security of our system be, in some way, provided to the community. Our student email system is as secure as the users keep their passwords, and as secure as Google, a global leader in this arena, keeps them.”

His message continues: “In terms of Google docs, they will appear in an account when they are accessed by the Google user who is signed in and the “owner” of the document has provided access to it through a link distributed through a website, blog, email or any other information distribution system. The bottom line is that you are correct that we cannot find that a student’s account was ‘“breached”’ buy [sic] someone outside the system.”

To my knowledge no such statement has been made by the district or the board. I have no idea why a simple statement that student emails and Google accounts are safe has not been made to alleviate any concerns a parent may have about their student’s security.

While Parent Led Reform’s motives may be noble, I wish that they would fully research their information (i.e. the technology behind Google Docs and the number of incidents with student accounts) before publishing such alarmist articles. If I, a mom, can get this information, surely the paid staff of Parent Led Reform or a board of education director could do the same.

As always I must ask, how does this help the students?

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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