When I attended Google’s one-day summit with Oregon teachers and tech-coordinators this fall, I heard about the myriad struggles faced by schools trying to implement Apps for Education – and this in a state that was already completely on board with the process of moving schools to the cloud.

One of the concerns that I heard most often expressed centered around students’ access to and usage of email – concerns about safety, privacy, and acceptable use. Will students mis-use email? Do parents approve of giving students accounts? At what age should a child get an email account?

After all, while most of the tools provided via Apps for Edu can be locked down so that usage is restricted to a school or even a class, email gives you unfettered access to the world (or, at least those parts with email addresses).

Locking Down Gmail

As Gmail is arguably the cornerstone of Google Apps, some of the fears about students and email have likely hampered some schools’ adoption of Apps for Education. And for its part, Google says that having a better control over email is one of the most requested features from its K-12 users. So Google has made a change to Google Apps (not just for Education but for Business and Government customers too) that will let administrators establish policies specifying who their users can communicate with via email.

These new controls can be be adjusted based on different user groups so, for example, school faculty and staff can have unrestricted email access while students can only email those within the school community.

“Using these new controls finally gives us the ability to provide email to our 40,000 high school students. We are confident that this will help protect our children from inappropriate communications and excited about new class activities and collaboration that email will bring. Not all kids are comfortable speaking up in class and this gives many of them another avenue to approach their teachers,” said Laurie Tranmer, Email Services Manager at Prince George’s County Public Schools.

The new feature is expected to roll out to Apps for Business, Government, and Education users within the next few days.