BOCA RATON, FL (BocaNewsNow.com) — Several teachers in schools throughout South Palm Beach County are using “Bloomz,” a Facebook-like app to communicate in a social network style with parents. This app is not approved by the Palm Beach County School District. Teachers are not authorized to use the app.
Potentially violating Florida public records laws, Bloomz presents a “back channel” communication tool that isn’t monitored by, and can’t be accessed by, administrators, principals, school district attorneys or members of the public filing freedom of information act requests. The Bloomz website clearly states in its FAQ section:
FAQ: I am a principal and would like to get access to my teacher’s updates.
Answer: The teacher can invite you to his/her class for you to join as “Class Admin”.
At issue: teachers are storing confidential student information in the app which may be used by Bloomz for marketing purposes, potentially violating FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Calendars, photos, testing schedules, lists of students completing field trip permission slips, even photos and videos are being posted online by teachers with no guarantee of privacy or confidentiality.
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Palm Beach County School District spokesperson Kathy Burstein stated in a written response to questions about the app: “Bloomz is not included on the list of District-approved apps.”
According to Burstein, “any applications are supposed to be submitted to a District technology committee for review prior to use.”
It is unclear if Bloomz was submitted and denied or not submitted at all.
Teachers are expected to use email if communicating with parents electronically. Email from the Palm Beach County School District domain is stored and compliant with federal and state requirements. Bloomz circumvents those requirements, permitting teachers to operate “off book.”
Google for education offers a similar service that is FERPA compliant and provides administrative access to all messages sent by teachers. The Palm Beach County School District uses several Google for education products.
UPDATE: January 26, 2018
BocaNewsNow.com received a lengthy response from Bloomz marketing director Horacio Ochoa. Keeping in mind that the company’s terms of service clearly state that third party contractors and others may have access to the system, he wishes to highlight this: