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Unannounced email overhaul

Account restrictions spark student, staff concerns

If+a+person+outside+of+the+district+domain+attempted+to+email+an+affected+account%2C+an+error+message+would+be+sent+back+to+the+sender+of+the+email.
If a person outside of the district domain attempted to email an affected account, an error message would be sent back to the sender of the email.

If a person outside of the district domain attempted to email an affected account, an error message would be sent back to the sender of the email.

If a person outside of the district domain attempted to email an affected account, an error message would be sent back to the sender of the email.

Hannah Shumsky, Editor-in-Chief

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Between Feb. 2 and Feb. 3, all students using Gmail-hosted freedomarea.org accounts stopped receiving emails from outside the district domain, the result of a new restriction that was unannounced to students and teachers, causing initial confusion.

During this time, those who sent emails to student accounts received error messages, stating, “Your mail has been rejected due to the acceptable use policy for the organization.” Students who sent emails to outside accounts, however, received no error messages, leaving many initially unaware that a change had been made.

Although some students realized they could not receive emails outside of the domain around Feb. 3, students or teachers did not understand that this was an intentional change until administration commented on the restrictions nine days later. The confusion during this time impacted several students and student organizations.

Some seniors used their Freedom email address for college applications and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). During the time from Feb. 3 to Feb. 14 when senior accounts were restricted, students missed information regarding their applications and deadlines.

“Whenever they restricted the email, I wasn’t receiving anything from Duquesne, I wasn’t getting anything from my FAFSA, and my FAFSA was trying to tell me that I did something wrong and that I have to resubmit it, and I wasn’t getting any of those emails. I’m pretty sure they emailed me multiple times,” senior Leeanna Eckman, a future Duquesne University business student, said. Eckman also said that she missed information on an upcoming visitation day.

Additionally, the deadline to register for the March SAT was Feb. 10, meaning that all students who used their Freedom email to register for the assessment were unable to receive any follow-up information for the March 11 test.

Students in the Freedom Fortune 500 course must also contact businesses and maintain professional relationships with those contacts outside the district to meet their mission. As a result of the email restrictions, contact with those businesses was limited.

“With these restrictions, it makes it rather difficult to receive orders or go over order details. Due to the fact that we do our designs on Illustrator, we have to email the design to customers to ask them for their approval or thoughts. So, with these email changes, it makes it rather difficult to continue a student-run business when our only way of communication with our designs is limited,“ Freedom Fortune 500 president, senior Vanessa LaValle said.

Musical Director Deb Williamson also used an email account outside of the domain to contact students about practices and schedule changes. As a result of the restriction, the district created a freedomarea.org account for Williamson.

“[The school] encourage[s] us all to do after-school activities and be involved, but then they cut off the email strands, and that’s the only way we’re supposed to be getting information about what we’re supposed to be doing,” junior Ian Moran, who will play “Sonny” in FHS’s production of “Grease,” said.

There are also students who participate in extracurricular activities outside of school. Junior Rachel DeCesaris, for example, is the District 2 Representative of PA DECA. Her duties as a state officer include communicating with the other district representatives to plan state-wide events, like the state conference on Feb. 22-24. To maintain professionalism, all of the state representatives used their school Gmail accounts to communicate, excluding DeCesaris from communication during the planning process while her email was restricted.

“There’s a lot of planning from the state officers that goes into having that [state] conference, and all of us took a part of it and we had certain deadlines we had to meet. I thought I met my deadlines, but it turns out that I didn’t,” DeCesaris said. “Whenever they tried to email me to see where I was at with doing my requirements, they couldn’t email me to figure out if I was OK and if everything was being done on time.”

On Feb. 12, Instructional Technology Director Marie Dohanich commented on the restriction, stating that the change was intentional.

“Google accounts on the domain of freedomarea.org are to be restricted to the school’s domain. Your account should work to communication with Google Classroom, teacher[s] and classmates within the domain,” Instructional Technology Director Marie Dohanich said. “These safety measures are in place to protect our students.”

Many upperclassmen who have used their school-created email accounts since middle school without drawing concern from the IT department were left wondering what incited the systematic change.

“Students have used school-provided accounts to create accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Pandora and many other social media apps. All email services are provided, owned or funded by Freedom Area School District and can be restricted for safety reasons. School-based email falls under school provided technology, therefore, students must follow the rules that are laid out on pages 76-82 of the student handbook. Use of school-provided email accounts is subject to these restrictions even though students are using the school-based email to communicate outside of school for non-school reasons,” Dohanich said.

Dohanich also cited the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) as the source of rules and regulations with which school districts must comply. According to the Federal Communications Commission’s website, school districts subject to CIPA must address the safety and security of students while using email or related communications as well as “measures restricting minors’ access to materials harming them.” Despite the student restrictions, teachers are still able to send and receive emails from outside of the district domain.

The main catalyst for the confusion came from the implementation of the change before an official statement was released by the IT Department or district administration. At press time, no official announcement has been made to the staff or student body.

“We saw [a] large amount of activity on accounts that required this restriction. We have been working with staff members to allow access to restricted domains. However, we acknowledge that the change could have been communicated more clearly,” Dohanich said. “While these restrictions will be a permanent [sic] going forward for our students, we are making accommodations to help students that have used this account for college applications and college communication.”

Currently, FASD Policy 815, which covers the acceptable uses of internet and school-based technologies, does not explicitly state that emails are to be restricted to the domain. According to Dohanich, with the restrictions being a permanent change, the language in the policy will likely be updated.

Originally, all student accounts were restricted. However, as of Feb. 14, the restriction was lifted for senior accounts. Due to financial reliance on communication with local businesses and journalistic organizations, the restriction was also then lifted for students in the Print Media Workshop course, who are responsible for publishing the FHS Press and Shawnee Yearbook. While Dohanich did not specify whether or not all juniors were unrestricted, some juniors have reported being able to receive emails outside of the domain.

Although the restriction was lifted for select groups of students, the decision still impacts the way other students, mainly underclassmen, communicate.

“My parents have trouble emailing me while I’m at school, as they might need to tell me something important, and I won’t be able to know about it,” freshman class treasurer Cade Skuse said. Skuse also said he cannot received emails from educational websites like Turnitin.com, which sends users “digital receipts” after an assignment was successfully uploaded.

The annual Freshman Forum, in which freshmen listen to multiple presenters speak about professionalism and life beyond high school, took place on Jan. 17. Secondary Computer Applications teacher Tom Hickey gave students the option to send a thank-you email to presenters at the forum. He said that students who chose that option sent the emails after Feb. 3, meaning that the presenters never received the emails and students will not be able to get in contact with those presenters using their Freedom email account.

Junior Haley Velemirovich, a member of the softball team, says that the email restriction meant that she did not receive some information regarding her softball schedule, and underclassmen players will still be unable to receive these notifications.

“Concerning softball, we use an app called ‘Game Changer’ that allows our coach to display our scheduled practices and games. A feature of this app is that it sends us updates when our coach makes any changes to our schedule. If we cannot receive any emails from this app, there is no way for us to know when a practice or game time is change. Coaches are not allowed to personally text players, so it is a major inconvenience for the emails to be blocked,” Velemirovich.

According to Dohanich, teachers may submit requests that specific outside domains be reviewed for exception on a case-by-case basis. Those requests may be made by sending an email to help@freedom.k12.pa.us.

Students whose accounts have since been unblocked have not received any emails from the restricted period, and, at press time, it is unclear whether recovery of those emails is possible.

As a result of initial backlash from the implementation of the email restriction, Dohanich formed a technology committee. The committee, comprised of teachers, will meet with Dohanich in the near future to discuss ways that students can be safe while using technologies while continuing to move forward in the classroom and beyond, continuing the conversation on how much access a student should have when it comes to a freedomarea.org account.

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Unannounced email overhaul