There's been a recent surge of online learning activity as schools and universities around the world look for solutions to continue their teaching, learning and student support while institutions close due to the outbreak of Covid-19/coronavirus.
While this surge will help to protect the well-being of their students, these institutions now face the additional challenge of how to protect students while they learn virtually.
Schools and universities launching virtual learning platforms and online classrooms should review their existing policies and consider implementing specific guidelines.
These might address, for example:
- where students and staff or faculty should be located when they join virtual classrooms. For example, you might want to ensure where possible that individuals do not join virtual sessions from their bedroom, and school students are located in a common space in their house within earshot of parents unless they are having a confidential session (see below)
- how staff, faculty and students interact with each other online, what are the do’s and don’ts around language, sharing of any personal contact details and sharing of material during virtual classrooms
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- what staff, faculty and students should do if they are worried about someone or something they witness in an online platform? For example:
- are students able to report easily to a nominated person at the school or university
- do staff and faculty know what to do and who to contact if a student becomes distressed during a session?
- for schools, are teachers able to contact parents if they are worried?
- for universities, if your protocols do not allow you to contact parents, what other actions can you take?
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- are staff and faculty able to block a user if that user starts sharing inappropriate material in a virtual break-out session?
- do your staff and faculty know how to report any illegal content that might be shared online, both internally within your organisation and externally to law enforcement?
- are managers or designated staff able to enter virtual classrooms to monitor lessons on an ad hoc basis?
- is the school or university storing messages so that it can review material afterwards if necessary, and is this being done in accordance with relevant privacy laws in your country?
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- if it is necessary to have one-to-one counselling sessions virtually, how is the school or university protecting both the student and the counsellor? The same broad principles that apply to in-person sessions should also apply to virtual sessions, including around letting parents know about sessions in advance (for schools), behaviour and boundaries, recording and reporting. Specific considerations include:
- do you have a safety plan in place for each student, which sets out what action counsellors should take if they think that a student is at significant or immediate risk of harm?
- can your counsellors report to someone if they feel that a student might be developing a crush on them or if they feel that their behaviour might have been misunderstood?
- for schools, can you have a parent be present at the start of the session and be nearby in case the student needs support, whilst still maintaining the confidentiality of the session?
For further information about how to protect staff, faculty and young people involved in one to one sessions, see this NSPCC Lone Working Guidance.
How are you adjusting any online monitoring that you already carry out to take into account new virtual activities? Find out more about monitoring for early intervention.
Tim Gerrish (a CIS Affiliated Consultant) and his colleagues at The Child Protection Advisors have drafted a set of guidelines to help navigate these complexities. CIS members can access these guidelines in the CIS Community portals for Schools and Universities.
Katie Rigg is the Head of Safeguarding and Student Well-Being at The Council of International Schools (CIS). Katie’s primary responsibility is to help CIS and school and university members to keep children and young people safe and to support and strengthen their mental health and well-being. In this capacity Katie carries out and supports research into new areas, develops resources, provides guidance and oversees professional development.