EDITORIAL: GoGuardian blurs line between privacy and safety


With the new One-to-One Chromebook Initiative, underclassmen throughout the district now have school-issued Chromebooks they can use in class and at home for educational purposes. By next year, students in all grades will have this same access. In order to ensure students are using these new materials responsibly, the district adopted GoGuardian, a digital interface that allows administrators and teachers to both filter content and monitor Chromebook use.

With this service, educators now have access to new tools that make life in the digital age easier to manage. GoGuardian can limit students from accessing inappropriate content and give teachers the ability to ensure their students are on-task in class. This is necessary in order to maintain a professional and focused educational environment. These Chromebooks are utilities to enhance education and need to be treated as such.

In order for students to get the most from their Chromebook, they need to take it seriously. However, in order for students to get the most from their Chromebook, they need to feel comfortable using it. And a student will not feel comfortable when they know that with each search they make, no matter how responsible their intentions, they are being watched. Certain functions of GoGuardian tread the line between ensuring student safety and violating student privacy.

With monitoring features that allow administrators access to search history regardless of where a student’s location is, privacy becomes a greater concern – especially considering that GoGuardian would already filter out inappropriate results, so a student would not be able to view anything they should not.

Though GoGuardian allows for closer surveillance, there is no way to distinguish if a prior search was made for academic purposes or not. It is impossible to tell whether a student is researching a supposed “harmful” topic for an assignment or contemplating dangerous acts. When the default becomes the latter, rather than making students feel safe, we create an environment in which students feel violated and uncomfortable as they conduct research for a class.

While it is a virtuous act to attempt to identify and help students who are having thoughts of self-harm, monitoring Chromebook search history is the wrong medium to do so. This is not practical, nor is it fair. A student who is thinking about committing suicide is not likely to be looking up ways to kill them self on a school-issued Chromebook. A student who’s looking for attention might.

A student who is doing a school project might. A student who is trying to be funny might. But a student who is actually struggling with self harm and suicide has many other avenues to get information. Instead, what we end up doing is making students who thought they were doing research feel violated and monitored and uncomfortable.

As the district continues to further digital equity, there must be a continued effort to preserve the balance between student privacy and safety.