Silicon Valley educators worry about data privacy as classes remain online
SJUSD teacher Taunya Jaco spoke in oppose to in person classes this fall during a virtual town hall Friday. Screenshot from the town hall.

    Local educators say students could be at risk of data breaches as schools continue online classes amid the pandemic.

    “We need to protect our communities,” said Roxana Marachi, a San Jose State University professor of education. “Especially communities of color, who are the most vulnerable to data exploitations,”

    Big tech companies in Silicon Valley have eyed the multi-billion dollars public education industry for the last decade, Marachi said. She warned teachers to “not advocate for our own demise” and to not overly rely on technologies during remote learning.

    Many applications used by schools, such as Zoom and Canvas, lack privacy protection or mine students’ personal data without much regulation, Marachi said.

    “There are lockdown browsers that track your eye levels,” Marachi said. “It’s best that teachers avoid those altogether.”

    Marachi, joined three other panelists and educators — Maripaz Berlin, Andrea Reyna and Taunya Jaco — in a virtual webinar Friday to discuss teacher concerns in Santa Clara County. The panelists also denounced the pressure put on teachers to return to traditional classrooms.

    Santa Clara County shuttered its schools since mid-March, requiring hundreds of thousands of children to learn from home. Under intense pressure from parents and politicians to reopen as the new school year is now just weeks away, school districts in South Bay are scrambling to release reopening plans.

    While some districts are opting for a hybrid model, allowing families to choose between online learning and going back to class, many will go completely online this fall. San Jose Unified School District, the largest district in the county, was the latest to announce its virtual plan last week. East Side Union High School District will also continue homeschooling students, superintendent Chris Funk announced in a San José Spotlight column Monday.

    With hundreds of thousands of students in Santa Clara County starting the new school year remotely, the panelists said teachers should reconsider how they measure students’ success.

    “The only test right now should be a nasal swab,” said Reyna, a middle school teacher at Ravenswood City School District.

    Jaco, a SJUSD middle school teacher, said testing should reflect a student’s ability to create and apply the lessons, not recall information. “If students can look up the answers, is that worth our time?” Jaco said.

    California suspended standardized testing for the rest of the year last March. While it hasn’t announced assessment plans for the upcoming school year, other states have applied for standardized testing waiver.

    Studies have indicated that children are less likely to become infected by the novel coronavirus. When they do, they are often asymptomatic or with mild symptoms, but teachers said resuming in-person classes puts them in a dangerous situation.

    “We normally feel obligated to do what we can for our kids,” said Berlin, an elementary teacher in Oak Grove School District. “… But it’s a different situation now because it’s a matter of life and death here.”

    Santa Clara County released reopening guidelines for schools this month, requiring adults and older students to wear masks and social distance as much as possible. The guidelines allow each district to determine when and how to reopen. It also suggests creating a back-up plan for distance learning should the pandemic worsen.

    Panelists also said while the guidelines “look good on paper,” it poses some unrealistic and expensive expectations––such as cleaning and disinfecting classrooms daily.

    “I’d have to buy my cloth wipes and I’d have to ask my students to clean the classroom,” Jaco said. “Where’s the funding?”

    Marachi said she’s at an “ethical gridlock.” Distance learning will further isolate students without internet capacity or those in an unsafe living condition, she said.

    “For many students, being at school is the safest place to be,” Marachi said. “That’s the ethical conundrum that I’m in.”

    But all agreed that teachers need more support from leadership in their districts. District officials should have invested in improving online learning, Berlin said, but they haven’t. She called on parents to continue advocating for more “rigorous planning.”

    “There was a lot of denial happening, and it still feels like it’s reactionary right now,” Berlin said. “We can’t default back to what we had.”

    Many panelists said when schools abruptly closed last spring, it left parents, teachers and school administrators scrambling — instead of distance learning, it became “crisis learning.”

    “We had to take decades of practice and research … and transform it to digital platform over the weekend,” Jaco said. “So to say distance learning has room to grow is an understatement.”

    Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

    Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified an application used by teachers for distance learning. We regret the error.

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