What The Experts Are Saying About Virtual Classroom Safety

February 19, 2021 / by The “I Love U Guys” Foundation

When the classroom is most anywhere

The pandemic rages on. Even with vaccines beginning to flow into communities—and educators finally getting their rightful place on the priority list—the threat of infection is still very real. As the return to in-person education rises, schools are still faced with targeted closures and with balancing hybrid models of in-person and virtual learning.

The “I Love U Guys” Foundation has always been a conduit for school and public safety. You all—the community— are the experts. We’re simply the aggregator and connector. So as we started to hear stories about the reality of safety in a virtual world from our friends and stakeholders in the field continuing their educational missions, we wanted to know what, if any, role we could play.

We’re very much still exploring this. To start, we held a meeting with over a dozen school safety experts and friends of The Foundation. We want to share a few highlights from this discussion, along with a few virtual classroom safety resources, with our broader community.

Learning to adjust.

We don’t have to tell most of you this: The stories from educators trying to manage virtual classroom settings are concerning, to say the least. Online abuse. Brandished weapons. Hacked Zoom meetings. On-screen physical abuse and self harm. Home environments and technology challenges that span the imagination. 

As if simply being distanced from students doesn’t create enough of a challenge from a connection-and-learning perspective, managing virtual classrooms brings a host of dilemmas for teachers, many of which are completely unpredictable. Here are a few highlights from our discussion that tell stories of how the community is adjusting:

  • Learning the technology options. (There are links to several virtual classroom safety resources, below). As the needs from educators bubble up, technology solutions are being developed for managing the virtual environment. Features such as:
    • Isolating troubled students.
    • Dumping all video feeds on demand.
    • Putting classrooms in a Hold.
    • Automatically monitoring threatening statements, searches, and chats.
    • Group and channel chats and emergency notifications.
  • Addressing mental health issues differently. As a community, it’s clear we’re still learning about the effects of isolation and physically distanced learning. One thing is clear: Educators are an important (and in some cases, only) point of contact with young people as they experience this reality. Watching and assessing what educators are witnessing has become ever more important. Some steps our discussion group talked about:
    • Daily suicide assessments, and teacher trainings of what to look for.
    • Increased frequency of meetings between teachers and counselors.
    • Increased and newly considered communications between administrators and teachers, providing as much additional support as possible. 
    • Using SRO’s to help follow up on issues, like suicide concerns.
    • Keeping and distributing lists of students with prior tragedies and at higher risk, and encouraging proactive outreach and check-ins with those students.
  • Adjusting access points to mental health services. Some schools and districts are changing their websites to make it clearer where parents can go for mental health services, and creating separate, on-demand virtual meeting spaces to provide mental health care.
  • Create guidance for teachers, to the best of your ability. There was some conversation about challenges related to issues such as when an incident requires a call to police vs. when it’s a call to parents, or what to do when a weapon appears on screen. Basic guidance may help educators anticipate some of these incidents.
  • Recognizing that parents are “the most important access point.” As difficult as this is for many environments, engaging parents is as important for creating a productive learning environment as anything educators can do. Parents are, as one member of our discussion group put it, “our most important asset right now.” Let’s face it: Learning to meet remotely is new to all of us let alone learning remotely. Many parents need help understanding the basics, and the more educators can develop communications specific to our times, the better the learning outcome will be. Many parents need help understanding things like:
    • The emotional impact of distanced learning and isolation;
    • The importance of a quiet space, to whatever degree possible;
    • Basic computer setup and configuration;
    • The importance of creating a clean space;
    • Operating video cameras, and ensuring they’re on.
  • Mandatory reporting. Many in our discussion group agreed that upping the diligence around reporting is critical. Keeping tabs on students and their well-being in a virtual setting is challenging but critical.
  • Diligence around phone numbers and contact information. It’s more important than ever to keep contacts of resources, administrators, and phone trees up to date and distributed.
  • Keeping up with assemblies. As easy as it may be to forget, large gatherings are perhaps even more important in the virtual world to remind students they aren’t alone, that they’re a part of a community. Assemblies are also, of course, effective means of communicating en masse. 
  • Looking to provide more assistance in virtual classrooms. Having another set of adult eyes in the classroom can be a tremendous benefit for teachers. It isn’t nearly as easy to scan individual video feeds as it is to scan a classroom, and teachers can miss things. One discussion partner shared how they’re filling this role with other school employees who need remote work options (nutrition staff, bus drivers, and so on).
  • Prioritizing in-person learning. There was some discussion around prioritizing who comes for in-person learning, and who can stay virtual. Special needs students, for instance, may require more in-person attention. Another discussion partner said they will ask students with low login and high absentee rate –  indications of technical or other home-environment challenges – to report in-person.
  • Rethinking legal, compliance, and policy issues. This was one of the more challenging areas that our discussion group shared, and it seems there are still more questions than answers in this area. What are the legal implications when a school records an instance of illegal activity? Who is responsible for identifying this? What are schools liable for from a compliance perspective as it relates to drills and technology tests? How thoroughly should a school update policy manuals for virtual environments?

Cited technical resources for virtual classroom safety

Here are a few of the technology resources cited by our discussion group. Have something to add? Please contact us so we can help grow the list. 

Building our virtual community

Learning from and collaborating with you has always been the way of The Foundation—you all are the experts, we are the conduits. What are you doing by way of virtual classroom safety? What are you seeing that works? Can we help connect you with a partner or collaborator? Please reach out. It takes a community, even if it’s a virtual one.

Learn more about The “I Love U Guys” Foundation, and follow the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

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Written by The “I Love U Guys” Foundation

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