#cyberbullying | #cyberbully | USA Schools monitoring student behavior with Bark

When the Unionville-Sebewaing Area School District was forced to turn to online learning in 2020, it had to look into other ways of monitoring the behaviors of students learning from home.

USA Schools became the first district in Huron County to implement Bark to Schools, an application that monitors student’s devices and accounts for suspicious behavior.

Cindy Gettel, the director of technology for the district, said the program is available at no cost for all K-12 schools across the country, with Bark’s website stating that over 2,800 districts nationwide use the program. It was developed in response to the Parkland shooting in 2018 as a way to protect students online.

A pilot program for preschool through eighth grade went on for one year before it was included for all the upper grades in March 2020.

“When we had to go virtual for COVID, we were concerned about student online activity because of more access to online devices and the internet,” Gettel said. “I introduced the application as a way of monitoring our students’ behavior while not on school grounds and using the school devices. I met with both principals, dean of students and superintendent and together we agreed to use it.”

“Our district uses it with our G Suite student accounts K-12 and it monitors key words in these applications,” Gettel said, referring to the Gmail, Hangouts, Google Drive, and Google Docs applications that students use. It also monitors Microsoft 365 applications, Chrome, Chromebooks, and DNS filtering.

Bark helps monitor for potential issues like cyberbullying, sexual predators, suicide, other threats of violence, and more.

This program is applied to all student accounts and devices at the beginning of the school year. The respective principal and dean of students are notified if a particular keyword or image is detected. If a discussion is required, then they will contact the student’s parents.

Parents can contact Gettel through the principal in order to view their student’s online activity.

Gettel said that while the system has not detected any violent behavior yet, it has allowed the district to teach what is and what is not appropriate online usage to students.

“It has allowed us some insight when it comes to student communications, opening the door for more online education for student decision making processes and informing parents of their child’s activity,” Gettel said.

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