MCPS Communication App in Limbo

MCPS Communication App in Limbo

Staff questions legal issues, feasibility

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The future of a proposal to develop a “communication app” for the Montgomery school system is uncertain as school staff consider concerns about the legality and “technical feasibility” of the idea.

At issue is whether the school system can legally create an “opt-out” communication system that would send alerts to families about everything from weather-related closings to community meetings.

In a memo to school board members, Superintendent Jack Smith said federal regulations restrict school districts from sending automated text messages without prior consent. The school system currently allows families to “opt-in” by giving prior consent to receive emergency alerts via text message and email, while the new system would automatically enroll families while giving them the option to remove themselves from the communications list.

The federal regulation Smith cites lists two exceptions for which automated communications can be sent without consent, including “emergency purposes” and communications that “while not for emergency purposes, are closely related to the educational mission of the school, such as notification of an upcoming teacher conference or general school activity.”

A resolution introduced by District 2 school board member Rebecca Smondrowski that would direct the school system to develop and implement the app, was expected to receive a final vote at the board’s May 14 meeting, but was tabled so board members could conduct more research. It is expected to go back before the board at Thursday’s meeting.

Smondrowski said she envisions the app would help bridge any communication gaps between the school system and families.

“Communication challenges are something I hear about frequently,” Smondrowski said. “As board members, we are always trying to look at better ways to do outreach and communicate with our students and families.”

In his memo, Smith said there are also “technical barriers” to implementing the communication system before next summer, the deadline outlined in Smondrowski’s proposal.

While many people have unlimited texting plans, some use plans that charge money for each text message sent and received, a fact he said should be considered if sending non-emergency messages to families., Smith said.

The school system last year administered a survey that asked parents for their top two preferred ways to receive school information.

Nearly 85% said they prefer emails from their local school, 55% emails from the system’s central office and 54% prefer text messages.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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