School leaders unsure of proposed email rules

Area superintendents are skeptical of whether a statewide proposal that would create new rules for the electronic messages sent between teachers and students would make kids any safer.

The bill at the statehouse would require that copies of electronic communications between students and public and private school employees and volunteers be sent to the student’s parents and the school principal. Principals would need to save copies of those messages for two years.

But school districts including Center Grove, Greenwood and Franklin already archive emails from their students and employees, some for as long as a decade. And even if schools save all of the messages sent between students and staff, there’s almost no way for them to monitor the messages unless they’re looking for something specific, Center Grove Superintendent Richard Arkanoff and Greenwood Superintendent Kent DeKoninck said.

“I just don’t know how you monitor all of that,” Arkanoff said. “I’m not sure it’s a very realistic expectation.”

Center Grove, Franklin, Greenwood and other area school districts assign email accounts to their students, and the policy at each school district varies. For example, Center Grove assigns email accounts to all students, while Franklin assigns accounts to students at the intermediate, middle and high schools, Center Grove spokeswoman Stacy Conrad and Franklin technology director Matt Sprout said.

Those email accounts also can include settings to protect younger students. At Center Grove’s elementary schools and Franklin’s intermediate and middle schools, students can’t use their school-provided email accounts to send messages to anyone outside of the school district, Conrad and Sprout said.

Emails and other electronic messages between students and teachers have become more common as technology such as texting and social media has advanced, and as students have started taking more online courses. For example, when Center Grove launched its global campus in 2013, the teachers who lead the online courses got emails from students with questions about assignments and lessons at all hours of the day and night.

But all of the emails that students send from or to Center Grove, Franklin and Greenwood email accounts are automatically archived with the school districts. State law already requires school districts to save emails on different topics, such as building or land purchases or a special education student’s individualized education plan, for a set number of years. That’s why Franklin and other school districts typically save emails for between eight and 10 years to ensure they’re complying with the law, Sprout said.

School districts also can monitor and look up messages they have archived, but they don’t typically review the archived emails.

And sending the messages to a principal for review isn’t practical, the superintendents said.

Right now, Center Grove High School has more than 2,400 students. If every student sends one or multiple messages to their teachers each day, there’s no feasible way for the principal or assistant principals to inspect them, Arkanoff said.

“Is there anything beneficial to him being (copied) on all of the emails?” Arkanoff asked.

The bill doesn’t specify how social media would be included. Right now, neither Center Grove nor Greenwood have specific policies about how teachers and students can contact each other through social media, partly because that technology is constantly changing. But teachers at both districts know they’re expected to remain professional, regardless of how they communicate with students. That means their conversations need to focus on schoolwork, the school officials said.

And DeKoninck always prefers that teachers and students use Greenwood’s email accounts if they need to talk outside of school, so that the school district can keep a record of the conversation.

At a glance

Here’s a look at Senate Bill 266:

What it would require if passed: That copies of electronic communications sent between students and teachers be copied to the student’s parents and principal. These would need to be saved for at least two years

What schools already do: School districts that issue email accounts to students archive messages sent between teachers and students, some for as long as a decade, though they aren’t closely monitored. Most school districts also don’t have set social media policies for teachers and students, though teachers are expected to keep any messages sent to students professional