Montgomery County Public School’s Sept. 1 announcement regarding the rollout of a new communication app for families, students and staff continues to be met with questions and concerns from residents about how the new tool—called Remind—will fit in with existing channels of communication.
Some parents have described the number of communication modes the school district utilizes as “overwhelming and ridiculous,” but a spokesperson for the school system says there “should be no confusion” about how to use the various digital applications like ParentVUE, ConnectEd, Class Dojo, Remind and others.
“I just think that people have a lot of questions and may not be eager to embrace this until they understand it a little bit more,” said Wheaton resident Brigid Howe, parent of a 12-year-old Odessa Shannon Middle School student. “I feel like they needed to do a little bit more of a demonstration of what Remind can do and give us a clearer explanation of how they anticipate it being used.”
Remind is a mobile application created in 2011 for the purpose of facilitating communication between families and schools, according to the application’s website. MCPS announced its rollout of the application in a Sept. 1 message and stated that all schools will be “regularly using” the app by winter break.
“School staff, central office staff, students and parents will all have Remind accounts to enable them to send and/or receive messages using a preferred mode of communication, such as text message, email or phone call and in their preferred language,” the MCPS announcement reads.
School officials first contacted Remind staff last fall to explore the possibility of a partnership, according to Jennifer Liu, Remind’s head of content. School board documents show MCPS awarding a $350,000 contract to the California-based company on Feb. 23 for the adoption of a new communication platform to be carried out under the oversight of the school system’s Office of Strategic Initiatives.
Silver Spring resident Leslie Kent is the grandmother and daycare provider of a 7-year-old MCPS student. She described the existing number of communication channels parents and students are asked to keep track of as “overwhelming and ridiculous” and said she doesn’t understand the need to add yet another digital tool to the MCPS toolbelt.
“While I am satisfied generally with MCPS, I agree with the many families who have complained about communication,” Kent wrote in an email to MoCo360. “I believe the communication system to be an overwhelming mess, and actually to hinder accurate and complete communication, family involvement and educational success for all children.”
Kent added that the communication channels can be particularly challenging to navigate for people who are not tech-savvy, people who work multiple jobs and people without easy internet access.
Reacting to the confusion expressed by parents over the number of digital apps MCPS utilizes, school spokesperson Chris Cram wrote that “there should be no confusion about what services are to be used,” though he acknowledged that MCPS uses Microsoft, Google and “many other tools.”
According to Cram, Remind will replace ConnectED, an application currently used exclusively by principals and central staff to send mass emails and SMS messages to families. Remind has additional features of “classroom level—home communications,” Cram wrote in an email.
Several parents described using ParentVUE as their main mode of communication with their students’ schools. The MCPS website described ParentVUE as “the primary communication tool for MCPS teachers and staff to communicate with parents about school and student information.” Cram described it as a platform where parents can input their emergency information and view their students’ schedules and grades.
Other residents have raised questions about the safety aspects of Remind’s use. While students younger the age of 13 cannot make their own Remind account, students ages 13 and older can use the app to “reply to teachers’ messages,” according to MCPS. Creating a private line of communication between students and teachers is a “recipe for disaster,” Rockville resident Stacey Wells said.
“Allowing minors to have such a channel puts both the student and teacher at risk,” Wells wrote in an email, herself an MCPS graduate with several family members who serve as teachers in the school district. She added, “Teachers should not be able to contact students outside of school hours in a private forum for the safety of all involved, and students […] should be able to ask any necessary questions to teachers during school hours.”
MCPS’ use of social media and digital applications has amassed criticism from parents in the past. When the school district joined a national lawsuit against popular social media hubs like Snapchat, TikTok and Facebook alleging they “knowingly cause emotional harm” to students via their platforms, some residents criticized MCPS for its extensive use of such platforms to communicate with parents and students.
For years, some MCPS parents have also been pushing for better student data protections given the hundreds of digital applications used in classrooms.
Howe said her son turns 13 in January, and she’s concerned about how his use of Remind will be monitored once he’s able to create his own account.
“Will he be communicating one-on-one with teachers? How will that be monitored?” she wondered aloud. She described her communications from Odessa Shannon as “actually very good,” saying the weekly email blasts from staff are well-formatted and easy to read. “So I’m a little unclear as to what added value Remind will bring,” she said.