Zoom banned, to be replaced by Google Hangouts

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The New York City Department of Education recently announced that educational use of the popular video- conferencing platform Zoom has been banned, and all other video conferences have been suspended until April 20. In an email sent on Sunday April 5, Principal Brian Condon explained that the change was made “due to safety and privacy concerns.”

Recently, the surge in usage of video conferencing apps such as Zoom has resulted in “zoom-bombing,” or the disruption of Zoom meetings by uninvited participants. The DOE’s decision to cease school Zoom meetings was likely based on similar concerns. 

In its original messaging, the DOE also indicated that Google Hangouts would need approval and encouraged schools to transition to Microsoft Teams. However, according to a second letter issued by the administration three days after the initial announcement, Google Hangouts has been approved by the DOE and teachers will resume regular video conferencing via Google Hangouts following this week’s “enrichment” focus.

One incident with Zoom took place in Dr. Mariko Sato-Berger’s chorus class, when someone outside of THHS had entered the meeting uninvited and used profanity against her. Junior Sukhmanpreet Kaur recounted, “As Dr. Sato told the person to stop continuously, the person repeated the phrase ‘Oh really? I don’t care.’”

Nevertheless, some THHS students expressed positive experiences with teleconferencing. Freshman Emily Lu described, “Zoom and Hangouts are easy to use and an effective tool for remote learning.” Senior Hope Ha further detailed, “I’ve taken online classes before when homeschooling, and we used Adobe classroom for that, which essentially works the same way as Zoom. I found Zoom to be more convenient than Hangouts, since it’s easier to see everyone at the same time and conduct class in an orderly fashion.” 

Despite the DOE’s privacy concerns, students at THHS appear to have experienced few issues. To some, the temporary suspension of video conferencing caused by the DOE’s new restrictions came as somewhat unexpected. Hope continued, “I don’t know of any cases where Townsend has been affected by zoom-bombing, so I didn’t see why we had to switch.” 

Rather than prohibiting the use of Zoom conferences, Emily suggested an alternative approach to the situation. “The DOE could have instructed educators on how to install security measures on the Zoom/Hangouts platforms to prevent disruptions instead of banning it and forcing students and educators to find new platforms in a short amount of time.” She also explained, “Video conferencing has been temporarily paused and that could cause students to fall behind in their course learning.”

As THHS makes the transition to Google Hangouts, some are confident that the electronic modifications will be successful. “Given that we adjusted to zoom in about a week, I would expect similar results here, or in fact, perhaps quicker now that teachers are more accustomed to video conferencing,” expressed Hope. 

Despite the difficult circumstances which have arisen from COVID-19, THHS continues to persevere. Principal Condon encouraged, “Know you are not doing this alone; your Townsend Harris High School Family will be beside you the entire way.”

Additional reporting by Nejra Barakovic, staff writer