Controversial GoGuardian Service Reportedly Trialed by WHPS, According to West Hartford IT Director
By: Ben Davis
West Hartford Public Schools recently trialed GoGuardian, a digital suite for educators and administrators including filtering and monitoring tools designed to keep students safe and on task. Other towns in the state, including Newington and Plainville, already use GoGuardian.
The district reportedly only trialed the “Classroom Management” product, which grants teachers real-time views of the students’ screens, control over open tabs, access to browsing history, automatic off-task alerts, among other features. This prompted concerns over student privacy.
Promotional still of a teacher’s perspective using GoGuardian.
Mr. Jared Morin, Director of Information Technology for the Town of West Hartford, relayed the Courant’s questions to the appropriate network team. When asked about privacy concerns, Mr. Morin’s team assured that GoGuardian is “compliant” with federal and state student privacy laws and noted that the service only operated during school hours and notified students when activated.
The legal compliance of GoGuardian isn’t enough for some. Annalisa Little, a sophomore at Plainville High School, criticized the product, which was used more extensively by her high school. She expressed frustration with the idea of GoGuardian being installed to her personal laptop. “I don’t care if they see my Chromebook from the school, but my own, I feel like [that] is a violation of privacy.”
On the other hand, some students believe that GoGuardian is a reasonable aspect of the classroom environment. “Teachers use it to make sure kids are on the work they should be on...” said an unnamed student from Newington High School. “…[not] to spy on kids all class.” This student also pointed out how the classroom management tool was exclusively on their school Chromebooks.
The two primary issues surrounding GoGuardian are whether or not the service would be installed on students’ personal devices, and to what extent teachers would use it. Moderate, respectful monitoring of school devices during school hours is much more agreeable to students than excessive spying into students’ own machines. For WHPS students, the Chrome extension was “...automatically installed…” when logging onto your WHPS account, according to Morin. The extent of said automatic installation, however, remains unclear.
Mr. Morin’s network team told the Courant that “the trial was initiated out of the interest of educators with the intention to keep students engaged during remote learning sessions. The service was praised in other districts for its robust capabilities and effectiveness in keeping students on task.”
The introduction of the service also prompted scrutiny over the effects it would have on equity. Students who don’t own their own devices and rely on school-issued laptops would be more likely to face increased surveillance, leading to disproportionate consequences for lower-income families. While this concern was ultimately replaced by concerns of monitoring student-owned devices, the element of equity represents one of many complexities and tensions of enforcing GoGuardian upon students.
To the dismay of those looking to utilize GoGuardian’s features and the rejoice of others, Mr. Morin’s team declared the service “unnecessary”, citing the return to in-person learning. While GoGuardian is off the table for now, it prompted an important dialogue over the balance between student privacy and class engagement.