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Privacy questions complicate Franklin Regional email issue

| Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Google might not have all the answers for Franklin Regional.

As officials consider implementing a districtwide email program, privacy issues have some board members wanting to stay away from the tech giant.

“I'm concerned about any outside entity like Google and Gmail maintaining our student information,” board member Dennis Pavlik said. “We see case after case of information being taken out. … I'm truly concerned about this data and student data getting out there. I'm just singling out Google because I've had direct experience there.”

District officials are considering using Google Apps for Education. However, privacy issues regarding Google's student suite of programs have cropped up across the nation. Google Apps for Education is offered free to thousands of schools and colleges across the country.

A federal lawsuit filed in California that includes two West Coast university students says the company scans the contents of emails sent through its Gmail program, which attorneys say violates the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

In an “Education Week” article published last week, a Google spokeswoman said the company “scans and indexes” emails of all Apps for Education users for several reasons through a process that can't be disabled. The results of the data mining aren't used to target ads for students unless students opt in to receive ads, she said.

Franklin Regional Assistant Superintendent Mary Catherine Reljac said security is a main concern with student technology.

“No matter what we do, we have to consider all of the security of student data and the end-user experience when we consider new products,” Reljac said. “One thing with Google is that we're not necessarily married to that product.”

Technology director Brad Schrecengost said that if district officials opt for Google email, student information and log-ins would be anonymous and have restricted access.

“We're not going out and jumping with two feet,” Schrecengost said. “There are a lot of different reasons this might not work in a lot of places.”

Superintendent Jamie Piraino agreed that officials will consider privacy and financial issues before piloting or committing to any email program.

“One of the things Google offers is a low-cost solution to technology,” Piraino said. “From a fiscal standpoint in terms of what we need to do, the technology is expensive. Google offers a way to be responsible fiscally. But I, too, am concerned in terms of student security.”

Board member Gregg Neavin said data never is as secure as officials would like.

“Your data security is as secure as the lock on the door into your data room,” Neavin said. “If someone really wants your data and we're housing it here at Franklin Regional, they'll kick the door open and take it. I would rather have a company, whether it be Google or whoever — who spends a lot more time and resources than we have available to us.”

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