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A Cape St. Claire parent is concerned about technology used in the Anne Arundel Public School system, worrying about weak passwords, parents’ lack of computer literacy and if it’s tracking where students log in.

After her Cape St. Claire Elementary School third grader came home with a homework assignment to be completed in a Google Suite account, Emily Johnson asked the school system to review the policies and protections for younger students with access to the applications in the account.

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Johnson reached out to the Board of Education and the elementary school teacher about a week ago on the use of Google Suite Education, an online resource that allows for students and teachers to access a range of applications, activities, lesson plans, digital literacy tools and more.

As a web developer and designer working in the industry for over 20 years, Johnson expressed a need for more details.

“The big problem with this is that most parents don’t understand any of this,” Johnson said. “I feel like for (the district) to not be very explicit about everything is putting everyone at risk, whether the kids are using this in the schools or at home.”

Schools spokesman Bob Mosier said the school system looks for ways to increase collaboration with parents and that school officials are still reviewing the letter Johnson sent school officials. School system also provides routine trainings that work with instructional technology specialists and will host a workshop for parents in November.

Among concerns like her child’s online safety and the protections in place, Johnson had an issue with the use of YouTube.

“The children have access to YouTube on their accounts. Whether it is through G Suite or not, children under 13 are never allowed to use the product,” Johnson said.

The restriction is part of the content platform agreement in which children cannot use “YouTube apps, websites or features until they turn 13 and manage their own Google Account,” states the website. But according to school officials, YouTube is used in schools in conjunction of the school system’s security software called iboss and a ‘restricted mode,’ said the school system’s Chief Information Officer Greg Barlow.

“We don’t allow any of our students at any level to see all of YouTube, restricted mode and our iboss filtering are effective in streaming out the bad parts of YouTube,” Barlow said.

Even so, Johnson argues the school system should instead use YouTube for Kids because the original platform should not be offered to children under 13, she explained.

“YouTube terms of service say children under 13 should not use the product, it is not intended for children under 13,” she said.

Johnson has also taken issue with the parental consent process. On the school system’s website, a section entitled “Google G Suite for Education” was added Wednesday and reviews the concerns flagged by parents with a question and answer styled document. The student handbook has a page that outlines different resources students use, including G Suite, and on another page parents have to sign to give consent for students to use the services.

“We ask parents to sign this indicating that they read the student handbook and return this to the teacher,” Mosier said.

Johnson said the first time she heard of G Suite Education was when her 8-year-old son came home with homework and needed to access the Google platform.

“I didn’t sign a handbook or anything related to this, so I haven’t given consent, in my opinion. I wouldn’t consider that reasonable awareness,” she said.

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In the student handbook under a subject, Technology Resource Use by Student, the text includes that students will “use AACPS-approved tools and electronic or cloud-based resources (i.e., Microsoft Office 365, Google Apps for Education).”

The Google platform also includes an agreement policy that outlines proper consent for the resource regulation and to follow federal guidelines under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

“Customer will obtain parental consent for the collection and use of personal information in the Additional Products that customer allows end users to access...," states the online agreement.

Johnson urges for a more detailed consent form when it comes to children using the Google Suite platform.

“There needs to be explicit consent from parents, like a permission form that says here are the products, here is the privacy, terms of service and other recommended information,” she said.

In a letter to the school officials, she recommends the school system review the consent form template crafted by Google.

In general, the use of Google Suite is to be seen as a “collaborative platform,” Barlow said.

“Students can collaborate together and work on a project so the sharing is really important. We can turn it off but then we might as well get rid of it, this is what the tool is designed for,” he said.

Johnson also said there are benefits to collaborating on projects and having access to certain products as long as they are “secure and protected online,” she said.

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