Montgomery County Public Schools this week is conducting its first “data deletion week,” purging its online databases of unnecessary student information.
Between Monday and Friday, MCPS staff will delete student information from the Google platform and several online applications students and teachers use, like Apple Education, myMCPS Classroom and GoGuardian.
While the new annual effort won’t delete all student data — information like grades, attendance and vaccination records remain — “data deletion week” puts MCPS among a handful of other districts nationwide to schedule an annual deletion of student data.
MCPS enrolls about 163,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade at 207 schools, according to school system data.
“It’s a strategy to protect student privacy in the digital age,” MCPS spokesman Derek Turner said.
The idea came from an elementary school student’s father, Brad Shear, who said his son accidentally did a Google search that turned up inappropriate results, including a song with explicit lyrics.
The child, then a second-grade student, was reprimanded, but Shear said he didn’t mean to do the search and didn’t understand the song was bad. Shear worried that one search would remain in his son’s “digital footprint” and “come back to bite” him later.
“Do we really think the stuff you’re saying and doing at that age should be held against you forever?” Shear said during a recent interview with Bethesda Beat. “There’s no reason all of their searches or emails should be held forever. I want kids to be able to be kids.”
Shear, a Bethesda attorney specializing in protecting executives and athletes from potential damage that social media and online activities could cause, highlighted the importance of the efforts, saying it is unfair for decisions and actions children make to haunt them for life.
He pointed to a recent situation in which Harvard University rescinded the admission of Kyle Kashuv, a survivor of the February 2018 mass school shooting in Parkland, Fla., after racist comments he made online came to light.
Many of the comments were made in a Google document, in which multiple students were typing messages to one another.
Kashuv argued that Harvard’s decision implied people can’t learn and grow as they age.
“Kids are going to say some stuff — that’s just part of being a kid. People take that and turn it into something it’s not,” Shear said. “We need to give the space to live and learn and grow without being under this microscope of public scrutiny.”
MCPS officials said they will continue to review the policies for apps and websites students and staff members use, and add to the deletion requirement list.
Shear said he hopes MCPS can serve as an example for other school districts in Maryland and across the country considering options to protect student privacy.
“This kind of information is never used positively,” Shear said. “I believe, in general, most people deserve a second chance, especially our kids when it comes to digital issues.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org