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Jan. 19, 2018

Confidentiality concerns arise with the new countywide counselor sign-up

by Arthi Thyagarajan, Sports Editor
Students are now required to fill out a detailed online Google form each time they visit the counseling office, in compliance with a new Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) mandate. MCPS Counseling Services implemented the form to collect county-wide data on students' overall well-being.
Students must provide their student ID number, grade, name of the counselor they came to see and reason for visit on a Google form. They fill out their information on chromebooks, which are located in each individual counselor's office. To record the reason for their visit, students must choose from a drop-down menu of twelve options, ranging from schedule changes to emotional concerns.
While the form may have positive outcomes, it also elicits concerns of student-counselor confidentiality. Susanne Bray, a counselor at Blair for 13 years, understands how the county's access to all student information and visit history can raise privacy issues. "I understand that kids might feel uncomfortable, and I encourage them to come talk about it," Bray said.
Blair counselor, Jennifer Taylor, sits with a student signing in with the new countywide counselor sign-up. Courtesy of Katie Calingaert
Blair counselor, Jennifer Taylor, sits with a student signing in with the new countywide counselor sign-up.

Daryl Howard, who has been a Blair counselor for 12 years, points out that if students feel the form to be intrusive, they can always just select 'other' or choose not to fill it out. "I would never force anybody to complete it if they didn't want to," Howard said.
In the past, the counseling office has used clipboards to record student information, but this system that used on-paper sign-in sheets allowed students to see who came in before them. For this reason, Bray prefers the chromebook system more. "Once you hit submit no one can see it. It's more secure than at the doctor's office," she noted.
Bray also explained how this new system is supposed to be more efficient than the previous one. Counseling offices in other Montgomery County schools have the chromebook sign-in the minute you walk in the door. "Blair is so big that if we did that, the line would be out the door," Bray said.
Blazers are also expressing their privacy concerns for the new system. For sophomore Brennan Moore, giving your name and reason for visiting takes away from the confidentiality associated with counseling. "You expect it to be confidential and that you can tell your counselor anything, but when you start recording things, it isn't anymore," Moore explained.
Junior Jordan Wallace agrees and thinks a solution would be to make recording one's name optional. "I don't see a point in providing a name and ID if the purpose of the survey is to collect data," Wallace said.
Despite these concerns, Howard thinks that the new system has its rewards. "We can track how many students are being serviced per year and what the main issues are. That's really helpful information to know if we need more counseling positions or training around social and emotional issues," Howard said.



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