After concerns from parents and students, Juneau School District is reworking the way it’s using a controversial new monitoring program.
During Tuesday’s regular school board meeting, Superintendent Bridget Weiss addressed Bark, a software program used to monitor student communications on school servers. When that program was implemented in September, parents and students raised concerns about privacy and data collection.
Weiss said a Frequently Asked Questions sheet was sent out to parents, and district representatives had spent time working with the company to try and assuage concerns about the software.
User data will now only be held by the company for 15 days, rather than the previous 30, and language filters had been altered to be less sensitive, resulting in fewer false positives, Weiss said.
Weiss said the next step is creating collaborative work groups with community members in pursuit of that goal.
Weiss also talked about the ways the school district addresses safety and security in schools. Staff recently completed the mandatory Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate school-shooter training for the year.
“Age and developmentally appropriate” school shooter drills were held in all school buildings, Weiss told the school board. Additionally, Weiss said the Juneau Police Department recently contacted the district with the idea of creating a kind of collaborative team of individuals trained in threat assessment.
The idea is still in its infancy, Weiss said, but the goal was to be “proactive rather than reactive, and provide support for people who might need that.”
JAMMing out, language
The board received a musical reprieve from its routine business.
To open the meeting, members of Juneau Alaska Music Matters (JAMM) performed two songs for the school board using violins, cellos, ukuleles and drums.
JAMM Executive Director Megan Johnson told the audience there were now instructors working for the tuition-free music program who had begun their own musical education with JAMM.
“It’s a beautiful representation of our success,” Johnson said.
After the young musicians left the School Board got back to its regular business. The bulk of the meeting began with Weiss giving her regular report to the board.
Weiss said that she had recently returned from a meeting with the Native Education Advisory Council, which focused on how school districts can support indigenous language learning.
Earlier this year, the Juneau School District formed a Tlingit Language Revitalization Task Force which began looking at ways the schools could integrate Tlingit language instruction into curriculum.
‘A’ is for audit
The school board also got a run-down of the district’s financial situation. JSD Director of Administrative Services Sarah Jahn walked board members through the highlights of a nearly 200-page report on district accounts. Jahn was joined by independent financial auditor Karen Tarver, who works for the accounting firm of Elgee Rehfeld.
“As a result of the audit,” Tarver told the school board, “we issued an unmodified opinion. That basically means you got an A.”
That’s not to say the school district has no financial worries, Tarver said, just that everything on the books appears as it should.
Jahn told the board the district has a fund balance of roughly $4.8 million and gave the members an overview of where the district’s money was coming and going.
The financial report will ultimately be submitted to the state Department of Education and Early Development as well as the city Assembly.
The report is available from the school board’s website.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.