Rumor has it: An investigation into the District’s parent group chats and online communities

The school is hiding Code Black from its students, students are hiding in closets, there is a school shooter on campus and students have been barricading their doors during fourth period. None are true but parents have spread them on online communities during a short-lived shelter in place in January. At the same time, during the bomb threat last semester, a parent found out about the genuine danger far before students were told. The unclear accuracy of information on parent communities and group chats was a source of concern for those of us here at The Talon.

While there is generally a belief that these chats are misinformed and unhelpful among students, The Talon’s investigations found that the parent group chats generally do not spread misinformation. Most conversations on these forums are parents asking each other legitimate questions about their students’ lives at school. Yet these communities are relatively inaccessible. Only 20 percent of 256 respondents reported that their parents were on these group chats to begin with, a Talon Instagram poll found.

Students also believe that their parents are not well informed about what goes on at their school, as 67 percent of 250 respondents on a Talon poll said. 65 percent of 225 respondents also believed that the Mountain View–Los Altos District does not do a “good job reaching all parents.”

“More support for Spanish-speaking families,” Instagram user a_amayao said, as an area of improvement.

When asked about parent group chats, Community Outreach Specialist Michelle Bissonnette compared them to a “double-edged sword,” claiming that although sometimes they’re helpful in getting information out, at other times, they hold the risk of causing panic by spreading misinformation.

For many parents, group chats have become a community to ask questions or gather opinions on topics that are both trivial and critical, such as SAT tutoring.

The WhatsApp group chat is an exclusive community in which only administrators can add people. As a result, the community is insular and has a relative overrepresentation of Asian and white parents.

The NextDoor community is entirely public and has various threads about LAHS but these are used more rarely and react far more slowly because it is not a messaging system and as such, it depends on when users are on the website.

“If I am seeking timely information regarding an emergency at my daughters’ school, MVHS, I feel that [Nextdoor] is likely the best resource to reach the relevant community,” parent Judy Kapiloff said.

“The information on Nextdoor is very subjective,” parent Vince Brown said. “People use it more for complaining than promoting useful information. … Major events related to immediate security issues should not be discovered through parents via Nextdoor.”

Although these online forums have successfully bred informative parent communities, the exclusion of certain parents still leads to inequity in the type of information that parents at LAHS receive.

“My personal experience is that I receive a lot of emails but half of them are irrelevant or just not clear/not to the point,” parent Shu Lin said. “There is little connection I feel with the MVLA community. In my personal opinion, the school does not seem to encourage parents to get to know one another nor parents with school staff; or perhaps I don’t know about the events.”

On the other hand, many still feel that MVLA communication has been sufficiently adequate, given the certain intense circumstances the school has faced this year.

“I feel that MVLA is good with communicating to parents, either through the trustee meetings, texts, or other periodic memos,” parent Judy Kapiloff said. “I recognize that their information will at times be delayed, if they are in the midst of an emergency. They will want to properly assess a situation before communicating with the parents to avoid relaying bad information or causing stress and concern where none is needed. It is a challenge for them, as the students will likely notify their parents of an occurring event before the school is in the position to share anything.”

In order to increase transparency with parents, the District has been working on improving communication with parents, so that all families in the District network are well informed on school events. Assistant Superintendent Teri Faught notes the District has regular, informative emails to their community and have been surveying the parent population and analyzing those results more often and the District has been working on increasing the diversity of parents surveyed and reached.

Bissonnette has begun ThoughtExchanges, online forums that ask the community questions on specific topics to gather public thought. She gathers demographic data of all community members who respond to the surveys, and claims that the diversity of respondents has increased from previous years.

“In the surveys where we were asking for feedback on the bell schedule, it was important to take into account the demographic information,” Bissonette said. “If you have students that live two minutes from campus and then students who have to take two buses to get to campus, that creates equity issues, so from the backend, it is important to know this stuff from the analytics side.”

In addition to the lack of representation in parent feedback, Bissonette also cited information transparency as an area of growth for the District’s communication efforts.

Her solution? A centralized District website.

Bissonette and District Website Coordinator Shona Davidson have been working on centralizing all necessary links on the District websites, and making the websites easier to navigate so that information isn’t obstructed from parents who need it.

“Everyone is working so hard and going at a million miles an hour,” Bissonnette said. “We have to remember that, we have to take some time to make sure that things are organized in a way that parents can find the information.”

Although new to the role, Davidson’s goal for the websites is to make improvements to the interface, to beget easier navigation.

“While working on this website, I’m not going to look at the website like a web designer or a District employee,” Davidson said. “I’m going to look at the website from the perspective of the people it’s supposed to serve.”

The new District websites came out late February, but the website team is continuing to make improvements to the design.

“If any parents are uncertain about anything, I encourage them to reach out to me,” Bissonette said. “That’s part of my job — to help parents.”