That email to parents from Summit? It is legit

Chad Frey
The Kansan

An email was sent to parents of students in Newton USD 373 Aug. 6  from an address ending in summitlearning.org. In on just one sentence, repeated in English and Spanish, recipients were notified that all parent passwords have been reset, and to create a new password they should click on a link in the email. 

Summit Learning, an online learning tool created by the founders of Facebook, was first launched in the Newton School District at Chisholm Middle School in 2018 as part of a school redesign effort.

In a scam-filled world, parents who did not recognize the email address or did not remember signing up for the website were skeptical. And if they clicked the link and reset the password, they found no data or information on the website about their students. 

"The email you reference is one of our new practices to stay at the forefront of privacy protection by encouraging stronger passwords," said  Kate Bondurant from Gradient Learning, a part of Summit Learning. "... The email we sent recently was a one-time request of parents and caregivers to update their passwords to stronger passwords to further protect their accounts."

Newton USD 373 planned to issue a statement and guidance to parents Aug. 9. 

The parent account is designed to allow parents to check on the current work being done by students. 

"Parent accounts let family members and caregivers access the current academic work of their students," Bondurant said. "Access to the platform is optional for parents who want to stay engaged in their students’ learning. When a parent logs into the platform, they are able to view their own student’s progress in their classes and better support their student as they work towards their academic goals." 

Summit Learning was first launched in the Newton school district at Chisholm Middle School in 2018 as part of a school redesign effort. The platform is now also in use at Santa Fe 5/6 Center. 

The platform came under fire from parents seemingly from the beginning, when concnerns over how much screen time was required by students was voiced. Last year parents voiced concerns over the effectiveness of the platform and testing issues within the platform. That district launched new initiatives including mentoring days in an effort to assist students. 

This spring and summer educators have submitted an implementation and improvement plan to the Board of Education. The board plans to decide on the future of the platform in the school system in December. 

Information for students in Newton USD 373 has not been input for the 2021-22 school year, which is to start Aug. 12. Once information is inputted locally, it should appear in the parent portal for those who have signed up for the service. 

For now, the company is trying to get parents to use passwords that contain numbers, capital letters, lower case letters and special characters to make those passwords harder to hack or guess. 

"Protecting student privacy is a top priority for Summit Learning." Bondurant said. "We were among the first signatories of the Future of Privacy Forum's Student Privacy Pledge 2020, and we ranked first among education technology providers in Common Sense Media's privacy evaluations. All of our security policies and core commitments can be found in our dedicated Privacy Center."