Wake County Public Schools ended its student device monitoring program

District says implementation took away from classroom time, required additional staff to monitor outside of school hours

Wake County School Board members discuss replacement processes for the District Four vacancy at a Jan. 25, 2022, special meeting.

RALEIGH — On June 30, Wake County Public Schools System (WCPSS) ended its pilot program of Gaggle, a student device monitoring application.

According to an email sent out by the district the decision came “after careful consideration by district officials and feedback from principals and counselors participating in the pilot program.”

“This software helped students be more mindful with their online behavior. The online safety of our students is our priority,” the email to parents said. “We will focus on developing behavioral support resources for students using technology. It is important for our students to develop social and emotional skills to prepare them to make safe and positive decisions for themselves when using technology.”

According to WCPSS Communications Director Lisa Luten, no formal written report on the data collected from the pilot was available.

“The data that was collected is the verbal feedback from principals and counselors that participated in the pilot,” Luten wrote in an email to North State Journal. “In a nutshell, implementing the software took away from classroom time and required additional staff to monitor the software outside of school hours.”

Luten also said “we didn’t record those interviews” and indicated that a summary of those conversations found that “Implementing the software took away from classroom time and required additional staff to monitor the software outside of school hours.”

Additionally, Luten said there are “no plans at this time to use Gaggle going forward.”

Back in June, North State Journal asked WCPSS about the data collected by Gaggle. Luten had indicated that only the response team at the school and district level response team had access to the data and it was being stored in a cloud “for 30 days” but that “anything flagged or alerted is stored for one year.”

Luten added that the exception would be Gaggle having a “legal obligation to delete child pornography after 90 days. It is also auto-reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.”

In August, Gaggle issued a statement renewing the company’s commitment to protecting student privacy by signing the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) and the Software & Information Industry Association’s (SIIA) Pledge 2020.

“At Gaggle, we believe firmly in the importance of leveraging technology to help students, and to do so effectively and responsibly, we must also adhere to stringent protocol to safeguard sensitive personal information,” Jeff Patterson, Gaggle’s founder and CEO, said in the statement. “We are pleased to reaffirm our commitment to protect student data by signing onto Pledge 2020.”

As previously reported by North State Journal, WCPSS was one of the first districts to pilot Gaggle, to “monitor students’ Google Drive and Outlook Email for concerns around self-harm and suicide, harassment, drugs and alcohol, violence towards others, nudity and sexual content.”

At the onset of the 2021-22 school year, WCPSS handed out Google Chromebooks to every student in the district. That means over 157,000 students were being monitored using Gaggle, but staff was not monitored, according to Luten.

It is unclear at this point how many districts will continue use of Gaggle.

In its most recently enacted budget, the North Carolina General Assembly allocated $5 million in federal relief dollars for districts to implement Gaggle. That’s on top of the $1 million given to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to make Gaggle available to the districts as part of HB 1105, The Coronavirus Relief Act 3.0, signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper on Sept. 4, 2020.

About A.P. Dillon 749 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_