On March 23, Berkeley High School (BHS) Principal Juan Raygoza sent an email to the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) community regarding the implementation of GoGuardian parental controls. The email was directed to BHS students and families, and stated that through GoGuardian, BUSD parents would have access to their children’s browsing data, along with controls over website blocking and the ability to pause internet access.
However, BUSD Directory of Technology Max Eissler told the Jacket that the district is reconsidering the implementation. “We have received a number of communications from parents and students concerned about this planned implementation, and we are adjusting course while we review and assess this feedback,” Eissler said.
The district is still deciding whether or not to indefinitely postpone the Parent App feature of GoGuardian, or whether it will be launched without browser monitoring abilities. Eissler explained, “In the latter scenario, the functions available to parents will be to block specific websites and to turn off Internet access on-demand or on a scheduled basis. They will not be able to see websites that the student has visited.”
BUSD already has access to students’ browsing history on their school accounts. However, a full GoGuardian implementation would give that access to parents too. In the draft of a district-wide email that was sent to the Jacket, Eissler gave reasoning for the implementation: “Google places restrictions on the ability of parents to use standard parental control and monitoring software on devices provided by the district and/or Chromebooks which are logged in with the student’s district account. Because of these restrictions, parents cannot easily implement their own solutions to safeguard their students’ activity on the Internet. The GoGuardian Parent App lets the parent access these supervision tools for their students when they are learning at home.”
While the prospect of monitoring students’ computers is still up in the air, many students have been very vocal about the new addition. “Students need to feel trusted by their parents and the school, and GoGuardian is invasive of their privacy,” said Alana Lee, a BHS sophomore in Academic Choice (AC). “The line is drawn where parents are monitoring their children’s every move online and the children feel like they don’t have any space to themselves. Distance learning is already difficult, and adding another stressor for students where they feel that they are constantly being watched will only hinder their performance,” Lee continued.
Another source of confusion for students has been the reach of the extension. In the email sent to all students, Raygoza stated that GoGuardian will only be implemented on school-issued devices. However, students have observed that when signing into district accounts through Chrome on a personal Windows computer, a new background app has been installed that runs at startup. Thomas Bell, a junior in AC, said, “The email explicitly says that it’s for school-issued devices, and that’s misleading. My computer holds onto a lot of personal information, the school shouldn’t have the right to my personal browser history or data.”
Although GoGuardian is also installed on personal computers, the district says these extensions aren’t new. “The extensions that you’re seeing when you log in to Google Chrome are the same extensions that we have been pushing out to student accounts all year, and we have high confidence that this is not new, it’s just something that nobody was noticing before,” said Eissler. BUSD also stated that monitoring components are disabled for personal computers, and that GoGuardian is set up to notify students when they are being monitored by a teacher. BUSD is also “looking into” whether students will be notified when a parent is monitoring them. “However, the parent monitoring is currently disabled, so at this juncture, it’s somewhat moot,” Eissler said.
Some students are upset, but many parents agree with BUSD’s decision. “I am legally responsible for my child. If he’s doing something out on the internet that is unhealthy or illegal, I absolutely should know about it,” said BHS parent Joan Bell. “The issue of my child’s privacy is a whole different issue than privacy with anyone else. If I had a private journal, I could tell my parents not to read it. But anything you put out on the internet, you might as well put out on a billboard in front of my house,” Bell continued.
As students and parents alike choose sides on the issue, much about the implementation of GoGuardian remains unclear.
Correction: This article was changed to clarify details about extensions on students’ personal computers.