Borrowed a laptop for school? Watch out for your open tabs
When dozens of millions of students suddenly had to learn remotely, schools loaned laptops and tablets to those who did not have them. But these devices usually come with monitoring software, marketed as a way to protect students and keep them focused on their tasks. Today, some privacy advocates, parents and teachers say software has created a new digital divide, limiting what some students can do and putting them at increased risk of disciplinary action.
One day last fall, Ramsey Hootman’s son, then a fifth grader in the West Contra Costa School District in California, gave him a problem: He was trying to write a social studies report when the tabs of his browser kept closing. Every time he tried to open a new tab to study, he would disappear.
It was no accident. When Hootman emailed the teacher she said she was told, “Oh, surprise, we have this new software where we can monitor everything your kid is doing throughout the day and see exactly what it sees, and we can just close their tabs if we want.
Hootman quickly learned that all devices provided by schools in the district use Securly, a student monitoring software that allows teachers to see a student’s screen in real time and even close tabs if they find out. a pupil is outside his task. During class time, students were to have only two tabs open. After Hootman’s complaint, the district increased the limit to five tabs.
But Hootman says she and other parents wouldn’t have chosen the devices provided by the school if they knew the extent of the surveillance. (“I’m lucky that was an option for us,” she said.) She was also concerned that when the monitoring software automatically closes tabs or penalizes multitasking, it would be more difficult for students to cultivate their skills. own ability to concentrate and develop their discipline.
“As parents, we spend a lot of time helping our children find a balance between schoolwork and other things,” she says. “Obviously, the Internet is a big distraction, and we are working with them to be able to deal with the distractions. You cannot do this if everything is already decided for you.
Ryan Phillips, school district communications director, explains that Securly’s features are designed to protect student privacy, are only required for district-provided devices, and teachers cannot see a child’s computer. pupil only during school hours. Securly did not respond to a request for comment.
In a report released earlier this month, the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit, said the software installed on the computers provided by the school essentially created two classes of students. Those in low-income households were more likely to use school-provided computers, and therefore more likely to be supervised.
“Our hypothesis was that there are certain groups of students, more likely those who attend low-income schools, who will be more dependent on the devices provided by the school and therefore be subject to more monitoring and follow-up than their peers who can basically afford to opt. Says Elizabeth Laird, one of the report’s authors.
The report found that black and Hispanic families were more dependent on school devices than their white counterparts and were more likely to voice concerns about the potential disciplinary consequences of the monitoring software.
The group said the monitoring software, from companies like Securly and GoGuardian, offers a range of features, from blocking access to adult content and reporting certain keywords (slurs, profanity, terms associated with self-harm, violence, etc.) to allow teachers to see student screens in real time and make changes.
Clarice Brazas, a teacher in public schools in Philadelphia, is alarmed by the possibility of monitoring screens remotely. The district distributed Chromebooks to eligible students, but it raised concerns about the disciplinary consequences of monitoring software in a district where the majority of students are non-white and low-income.
“I don’t know if it’s my job as an educator to control what content students see when they’re at home,” she says. “I consider it to be the work of the family.
Speaking with other teachers at GoGuardian, the monitoring software used in Philadelphia, she found that there was no consistent approach to monitoring student online activity. The lack of oversight, she says, has led to a case-by-case approach to disciplining students, which could unfairly harm students of color.