City leaders sign off on contract to surveil students’ technology usage during school day

GoGuardian, software in which employees can monitor what students are doing on county computers in real time, receives final contract approval from the BOE for $ 210,000.


Sylvan Lebrun and Yash Roy

00:36 February 23, 2022

Staff reporters



Yale daily news

On Monday, the Alders Council unanimously voted to sign a three-year, $ 210,000 contract with GoGuardian, a controversial computer program that tracks student online activity on New Haven public school devices.

GoGuardian, a software company from California, allows teachers to monitor their students ’online activity until 4pm each school day to limit distractions on their devices. When a student logs into a device with GoGuardian, his teacher can see everything they do – from searching on Google to watching videos on YouTube in real time.

After the contract was originally agreed in 2021, the program was implemented in several school districts across the country – including New Haven’s public school system – after the pandemic forced counties to switch to distance learning. Now, it seems, the software stays here even when students return to class and despite the concerns expressed by teachers and students. Initially, the agreement failed due to changes in the staffing of the BOE and due to problems with its submission to the BOA; Therefore, the vote takes place almost eight months after the signing of the original contract.

Leslie Blato, president of the New Haven Teachers Federation, criticized the contract, saying it would not improve NHPS student education.

“We feel surprised and disappointed,” Blato said. “I think even the district will agree that we need better quality personal learning, less on-screen learning experience, because that’s what research tells us is best for young people … we need more ways of personal communication rather than more ways to sow distrust or alienation from students ”.

NHPS IT Director Gilda Herrera explained that when classes were remote, NHPS students were provided with more than 35,000 devices through grants to help COVID-19. The Board of Education then felt the “need to monitor students” during virtual and hybrid learning, Herrera said, due to difficulties with student assignments and some inappropriate online communication.

According to Herrera, even though schools have reopened for personal learning, teachers still “need to be able to monitor” students while they work with their electronic devices provided by the district, or personal electronic devices in the classroom.

The BOA unanimously approved the agreement. Alder Adam J. Marchand added that NHPS told BOA that the software was useful to employees and so they asked for consent to the contract.

GoGuardian appealed to the Finance Committee

At a meeting of the BOA’s finance committee on Monday, Feb. 14, Herrera spoke about GoGuardian and proposed a multi-year contract. The committee did not vote on the item, instead hastening to bring it to a full board next week.

“If a teacher doesn’t want them, say, on YouTube, on Instagram, TikTok, whatever,” Herrera said. “In fact, we focus and help teachers manage their classes, because now students, even when they are on site, have a device in their hands. So teachers need to be able to see what they are doing on these devices to keep them up to the task. ”

Student Council member Anthony Fiore said he was unaware of the official announcement of the use of the program in the county, and was surprised that the county began using the program to monitor students without notice.

“Students need to be more aware of these changes made to the computer,” Fiore said. “This program can be detrimental to students who trust schools, and vice versa.”

GoGuardian monitors online activity of all students who are logged into their NHPS Google Classroom accounts, regardless of whether their device was issued by the county, Herrera reports. The program is turned off every day at 16.00, works only during school hours.

Branch 10 Aleshin Anna Festa has expressed concern about the privacy violation associated with the GoGuardian app. But Herrera replied that “we keep track of the actual software and the app we present, we don’t keep track of your personal Yahoo.”

Responding to concerns that their web program violates student privacy, Jeff Gordon, GoGuardian’s director of public relations and communications, wrote in a news statement that “Schools across the U.S. trust GoGuardian tools to help keep students in safety and enforce school requirements of the Internet Child Protection Act (CIPA) ”.

“Important steps we take to keep students ‘and schools’ personal information safe and confidential include providing schools with personal information about and control over students, using a dedicated privacy team, using advanced data security technology and iKeep certification. Family Information Compatibility Education and Privacy Rights Act (FERPA), ”Gordon added.

According to City Budget Director Michael Gormani, the three-year contract with GoGuardian will be funded by the Federal Fund for Emergency Relief of Primary and Secondary Schools, or ESSER II.

ESSER II appropriations for NHPS have already been used to fund the first year of the program. According to Gorman, the price of the GoGuardian service will increase by about $ 20,000 each year unless a multi-year contract is signed, so the Board of Education is in favor of this longer-term agreement.

Chamber President Ernie Santiago asked for further clarification on the delay and complained that the planning team behind the GoGuardian contract “came to us like a week before we had to vote”.

Gormany said the Education Council’s connection to the Alders Council had gone away during that time, leading to a transition period in which the GoGuardian deal was neglected.

However, Leslie Blato told News that she believes $ 210,000 for GoGuardian could be better spent.

“I think we need to think holistically about what we can do to increase confidence in our school system,” Blato said. “I think it will give more opportunities for small group discussions, more opportunities for more adults to meet students … we could spend money on that, and then if more adults in the room increase trust because more students will feel famous and will feel seen or heard ”.

GoGuardian, an educational technology company based in Los Angeles, was founded in 2014.




SILVAN LEBRAN




Sylvan Lebrun reports on the town hall. She previously covered nonprofits and social services in the New Haven area. She is a sophomore at Pauli Murray College with a degree in English.

YASH ROY




Yash Roy is involved in education and youth in New Haven and is a P&D staffer. He is a freshman at Timothy Dwight College in Princeton, New Jersey.

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