Jessica Cejnar / Friday, Sept. 25 @ 3:52 p.m.
DNUSD To Tighten Zoom Access After Students Are Caught Sharing Graphic Images, Audio; Superintendent Addresses Other COVID Concerns
A week after his staff vented frustrations over a lack of safety plans, Del Norte Unified School District’s superintendent painted a rosier picture of how it’s handling learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
But a handful parents told the DNUSD Board of Trustees on Thursday that they were fed up with online learning, citing a Wednesday incident involving students sharing graphic images and audio during a Zoom meeting, as evidence of the need for children to be back on campus.
“There a lot of safety issues and concerns,” said Leslie Erler, who claimed that strangers were hacking into Zoom meetings and showing pornographic pictures to students. “Our children being exposed to this is not OK. It’s disgusting. I would love to see children back in school.”
The incident Erler referred to involved students at Del Norte High School and may have included them sharing the Zoom link, DNUSD Superintendent Jeff Harris told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Friday. However, the system wasn’t hacked, he said.
“We do have a security piece and we are working to implement that fix,” Harris told the Outpost. “It will be a relatively smooth solution to the problem, however it will take some training for families as well as for staff.”
DNUSD is in the process of requiring that only approved email domains be used to access school-related Zoom meetings, Harris said. For students, this means they will be required to use their school email addresses to access Zoom meetings.
“We will also have a solution for families,” he said. “They’re not going to be removed from being able to utilize Zoom to communicate with staff. Once we get the fix ready to go, we’ll communicate with everybody prior so everybody will be able to utilize the program.”
In his email to staff, Harris reminded them of the following requirements: That students use their first and last names when logging onto a meeting; only one student at a time can be allowed in a waiting room; the teacher has to individually verify each student they allow into the meeting via camera; don’t allow participants to change their names and don’t allow the sharing of screens by default.
Harris’s email and the Board of Trustees’ meeting comes roughly four days after the district brought back roughly 140 students into the classroom in small groups for specialized instruction— Phase 2 in DNUSD’s four-stage “continuum of education.”
Students and staff expect to transition into Phase 3, DNUSD’s blended learning model, on Oct. 5. This model will bring K8 students back into the classroom in 50/50 cohorts two days a week and learning remotely the other three days of the week.
During his report to the Board of Trustees on Thursday, Harris said principals will begin walking staff through their school’s protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus. This includes procedures on proper masking, appropriate social distancing and hand washing, he said.
Principals will also walk staff through protocols involving students’ entrance and exit to and from campus as well as what recess and lunch will look like, Harris said.
“We had circulated through the teaching and classified ranks a document that was put together that includes all of the current guidance that we have,” he told trustees. “It goes a little bit further and walks folks through a day-in-the-life-of and addresses issues around discipline as we move ahead — what happens if a child doesn’t wear a mask or what happens if a child were to spit on another child intentionally and what might that look like?”
Staff still had concerns, though.
Crescent Elk Middle School teacher, Amber Tiedeken-Cron, brought up a discussion she heard during a martial arts class she teachers involving a young student traveling out of state. His trip brings him back to Del Norte County just before DNUSD transitions into its blended learning model, Tiedeken-Cron said.
Tiedeken-Cron noted that the district can be diligent about following safety protocols, but they can’t control families. She asked the board to consider requiring students be tested for COVID-19 if they travel outside of Del Norte County and possibly having them self isolate for the recommended 12-14 days.
“I know the community wants us back — we want our kids back,” Tiedeken-Cron said. “Are we going to put anything out to the community to talk about them keeping us safe? If they’re choosing to travel over the next week and a half, are we going to advise them to be tested? Maybe extend their period at home on distance learning?”
Charlaine Mazzei, DNUSD’s representative for Trustee Area 4, asked Harris to follow up on Tiedeken-Cron’s concerns, saying there should be a way for a student to engage in distance learning and return to campus when their quarantine period is up.
Mazzei also brought up her own concerns about Zoom, saying she noticed that teachers aren’t following some of the district’s rules.
“In my son’s class, you have to have your camera on,” Mazzei said. “They expect you to be sitting up. You’re not in your bed, you’re not eating. They want your camera on the whole time and they make you sign in with your first and last name. But other classes are saying they don’t care if cameras are on. They don’t monitor what the kids are doing while they’re on Zoom. Some of that comes back to teachers, making sure everyone is consistently using the same rules when they’re on distance learning.”
Addressing Mazzei’s concerns, Del Norte High School teacher Cheryl Bradley pointed out that many students live in home environments they’re not comfortable sharing with others. She agreed that the district needs to increase security to prevent “strangers” from hacking into Zoom classes, but wanted to avoid individual students being shamed.
“Last year, for example, one of my seniors who is autistic was in a meeting. She didn’t have her camera on and she didn’t have her mic on,” Bradley said. “I asked her in the chat about this and she said, ‘Well, my mom’s using my headphones right now and my dad’s playing the drums really loudly.’ They knew she was in school and they didn’t care. Many of our kids live in incredibly crowded impoverished environments. That’s where my concern comes from in requiring them to have their cameras on.”
Paige Thompson, a teacher at Mary Peacock Elementary School, said the incident Erler referred to didn’t involve strangers hacking.
“It’s students being naughty,” she said. “In our classrooms, we teach procedures and we don’t control what the students do. A great way to preventing this from happening is to have a clear policy on what the consequences are for students who are making the choices to do these things.”
Heather Young, Bradley’s colleague at Del Norte High School, pointed out that some students, including five of her own, don’t have working web cameras on their district-provided computers.
Another teacher, Marcus Endert, added that in addition to having multiple children accessing Zoom at the same time, slowing the program down, one is on their third district-provided Chromebook.
Harris, who participated in a meeting with Legislators, representatives of the governor’s office and superintendents from districts in California’s urban and suburban areas, said he was able to tell them that DNUSD needs devices and Internet access. The district has 750-800 Chromebooks it ordered earlier this year that aren’t coming, Harris said. And Hewlett Packard has postponed their arrival date until December.
“We’re getting everything we can,” Harris told trustees.
Harris said he expects 700-900 devices to arrive at the district and added that Ryan Bahten, DNUSD’s director of information network services, is snapping up those that may have a flaw such as a touchscreen that doesn’t work.
In reference to Tiedeken-Cron’s concerns, Harris said the district is going to put together an information campaign, asking the community to watch their children for symptoms before they return to campus on Oct. 5.