MCPS: Unblock our personal email accounts on Chromebooks

By Editorial Board

During the first few weeks of November, students noticed an inconvenient phenomenon: while it had been difficult to access personal Google accounts on Chromebooks in the past, it became completely impossible overnight. While MCPS accounts are useful for purely academic purposes, most students use personal accounts for school-related work. Without any notice from administrators or MCPS officials, students who used personal Google accounts to organize club activities and work on college applications were locked out at school. Unfortunately, this policy seems permanent.

Students use personal emails because MCPS Google accounts are restrictive in such a way that they’re difficult for students to use for anything other than purely classroom purposes. For example, MCPS account users can’t send or receive emails to or from non-MCPS accounts, and Google Drive documents created with an MCPS account can only be shared with other MCPS accounts. Now, the ban has made it practically impossible to conduct school-related business on personal accounts.

Asked about the latest ban, media specialist Travis Swiger said no student should have used personal email accounts on school computers in the first place. In reality, it was the restrictions placed on MCPS accounts—like preventing students from sharing documents with non-MCPS accounts—which forced many students to use personal accounts for school-related work, like research for the debate team. With this ban, MCPS significantly underestimated the scope of the work that students complete in school.

Senior Aubrey Lay, a member of the Filmmakers Club and Maeve Hagerty, part of Whitman Drama, used their personal accounts to communicate important information to club and community members during school hours. The ban has forced them to find less efficient ways to distribute information. Additionally, Filmmakers Club must now rely on members bringing in laptops because the scriptwriting service that they use to write and share scripts is linked through Google Drive.

The Black & White faces similar issues: reporters regularly email sources outside of the MCPS network and the editing process is conducted over Google Drive with personal emails. Since MCPS implemented the restrictions, the majority of the staff’s work has to be conducted at home or in the English office, a process that makes it difficult to get work done in class without bringing a laptop to school.

Many seniors work on their college applications at school using personal Google Documents, which are easily shared with parents and college counselors. By blocking personal accounts, MCPS just increases the often overwhelming stress that seniors experience at the worst possible time of year: college application season.

MCPS initially prohibited students from accessing personal emails over a year and a half ago, in December 2017, but students still found workarounds, logging into their personal account using Google-affiliated websites like Pinterest. Now, these loopholes no longer work.

County officials provided a number of different explanations for the new restrictions, many of which were contradictory. The common thread, however, was that MCPS limited personal accounts to protect students from seeing inappropriate content and from having their data collected and tracked by Google, a protection that is only available while using a school account because of MCPS’ contract with the company.

MCPS Chief Technology Officer Pete Cevenini placed the real blame for the ban on Google: MCPS officials would like to allow high school students to use personal accounts, he said, but the school system can’t allow it until Google changes its contract with MCPS to stop data tracking on all Chromebooks, not just on school accounts on Chromebooks.

It’s still possible to access personal accounts on desktop computers, which draws into question any argument about protecting student safety. Even so, students can’t access inappropriate materials on the school WiFi no matter which computer they use. Instead of arguing that students should never use personal accounts, the county should find a way to protect students while allowing them basic access to the only Google accounts that are truly useful. MCPS serves 161,460 students, 48,829 of whom are older than 13. They should be able to share a Google document with a non-MCPS account and send an email to their parents on a school computer.