District changes Teams security settings; students can no longer initiate chats

Student Teams chats have recently been disabled district-wide due to inappropriate activity being found in many students’ personal chats. However, all existing chats are still open and the new restrictions only affect students trying to start chats with other students with no teacher moderation.

“I know the gist of it is that new chats between students without teacher moderation has been stopped so you are no longer able to start a chat with another student,” principal Tom Lietz said. “I think at some point even the old chats will be expunged and removed from the system as well, but there is some concern that doing that might eliminate chats that teachers have started as well, and those have some value and meaning for record keeping and for other things.”

Teams was not meant for social chat. It was not meant to be Instagram school or Snapchat school, it was meant for academic purposes.

— Tom Lietz, Principal

The disappointing behavior that has been going on in Teams chats has caused some teachers and administrators to change their minds on the support they previously had for keeping Teams chats open.

“There was just some really really poor choices being made. I was a huge advocate last year for maintaining those chats because I thought they had huge value, and I still think they do. However, the cost of that value has become, in my mind, too high to keep them open,” Lietz said. “If I had staff or people that could moderate chats and make sure that inappropriate things were not being said I’d love to keep it open, but I am that staff and that is not sustainable.”

Some students fail to realize that even though they have personal accounts and laptops, they do not have privacy on those school-provided apps and technology.

“They don’t realize that, despite our saying so, that that’s school property,” Lietz said. “It is school software, you don’t own your email, you know you do not own that chat and it’s not private. Anything that you say or post or share on there that is in violation of school conduct can be used against you.”

Some students may feel that this is a violation of freedom of speech, however there are rules and regulations that students agree to when using school technology and school administered accounts.

“There is a difference between freedom of speech and acceptable speech in a particular environment and behavior in a particular environment,” Lietz said. “We make those guidelines pretty clear and there are just people who are not thinking and they are assuming it is no different then their personal chat and DM space on Instagram or Snapchat or whatever else, and it is not that so it became a real problem.”

Even though specific examples cannot be released, it is not hard for students to come up with some possible scenarios.

“You can use your imagination to assume what people might have posted or shared,” Lietz said.

Online group projects are not being hindered due to these restrictions; they are still very possible and can still happen.

“If a teacher wanted to have a chat between students who are working on a project together could create that group chat which allows for that teacher moderation,” Lietz said. “Teams was not meant for social chat. It was not meant to be Instagram school or Snapchat school, it was meant for academic purposes.”

Not only has this new chat policy affected students’ personal interactions, but has also caused difficulty for the yearbook’s student staff.

“It sucks because we have a lot of people we’re trying to interview, and we cannot message the virtual kids without asking our adviser to start a group chat,” senior Marissa Barch, editor-in-chief, said. “If there are kids out on quarantine it is hard to message them, too. It just slows down the class a lot.”

Although staff members feel that disabling Teams chats between students was necessary, students do not share the same opinion.

“I understand the opposing side of wanting to stop the inappropriate activity, but I do not think it is going to be as good of an idea as some people think,” sophomore Grace Jenkins said. “I think having chats with friends is super beneficial and keeps everyone in touch during the day since there is not always service on our phones. If I have a question about an assignment and my text won’t send, I know my friends will always respond on Teams since we’re always on our computers.”

Many other students share the same opinion and find the new restrictions making their days a bit harder.

When we go home to finish [science projects], our group messages are deleted, so we can’t contact our team. Then you have no idea if they did it or understood it.

— Kadence Huard, Junior

“I think that the chats shouldn’t be disabled because students have conversations through them and can ask each other questions about different things they’re learning,” junior Thaddeus Kustarz said. “Also, some teachers assign group work through them and now that it’s disabled they can’t do that and it makes it much harder to communicate.”

The Teams chat restrictions have made it especially difficult for classes that heavily rely on group work and team conversations.

“I think that they should not be disabled because I know with group work, especially with science classes, where you’re at tables and you have to do experiments with each other,” junior Kadence Huard said. “When we go home to finish them, our group messages are deleted, so we can’t contact our team. Then you have no idea if they did it or understood it.”

Senior Emily Thompson agrees.

“I’ve noticed that in science when group members are quarantined, it is hard to talk to them in the loud classroom and now you can’t even talk to them through the chat, so it makes it difficult,” Thompson said.

Despite the majority of students agreeing that Teams chats being disabled has caused more harm then good, some students are not as affected by the new restrictions.

“I do not care,” senior Jayden Slaughter said. “I do not use Teams so the new rules do not affect me.”

Some students, like junior Dustin Gordon, even think the staff should take action instead of just shutting the whole chat feature for students down.

“Instead of turning the chats off they should put in a program to regulate what words can and cannot be sent,” Gordon said. “That way the computer would pick up on inappropriate chats before they are even sent.”