Borrowing a Laptop at School? Think About Your Open Tabs

When to millions of students are suddenly aware of the distance, schools lend laptops and tablets to those without them. But those devices often have monitoring software, marketed as a way to protect students and keep them in their work. Now, some privacy advocates, parents, and educators say the software is creating a new digital divide, limiting the capabilities of some students and putting them at greater risk of disciplinary action.

One day last fall, Ramsey Hootman’s son, who was then a fifth grader in California’s West Contra Costa School District, came to him with a problem: He was trying to write a report on social studies when the tabs his browser continues to close. Every time he tried to open a new tab to study, it disappeared.

It was not an accident. When Hootman emailed the teacher, he said he was told, “‘ Oh, surprisingly, we have this new software where we can monitor everything your child does throughout the day and really see if what they see, and we can close all their tabs if we want. ‘”

Hootman soon learned that all devices issued by the school district use secure, student monitoring software that can see teachers film a student in real time and even close ones. tab if they find out that a student is out of work. During class time, students are expected to have only two tabs open. Following Hootman’s complaint, the district raised the limit to five tabs.

But Hootman said he and other parents would not choose devices issued by the school if they knew the extent of the monitoring. (“I’m lucky that’s an option for us,” he says.) He also worries that if the monitoring software automatically closes tabs or otherwise penalizes multitasking, it will be difficult for students to develop themselves. ability to focus and build discipline.

“As parents, we spend a lot of time helping our kids learn how to balance school work and so on,” she says. “Obviously, the internet is a huge distraction, and we’re working with them to be able to manage those distractions. You can’t do that when everything is already chosen for you.”

Ryan Phillips, director of communications for the school district, said Securly’s features are designed to protect students ’privacy, are only required for district-issued devices, and teachers can only watch on a student’s computer during school hours. It is safe not to respond to a request for comment before this article is published. After it was first published, a Securly spokesperson said district administrators can disable screen viewing, the product notifies students when the class session begins, and can be limited to school teachers to only start class sessions during school hours.

In a report to you this month, the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington-based non-profit tech policy, says software installed on school-issued computers is causing two classes of students. Those from lower-income households are more likely to use school-issued computers, and are therefore more likely to be monitored.

“Our assumption is that there are certain groups of students, especially those attending lower -income schools, who are more reliant on issued school devices and therefore subject to more surveillance and monitoring than of their peers who can choose outside, ”explains Elizabeth Laird, one of the report’s authors.

The report found that Black and Hispanic families relied more on school devices than their white counterparts and were more likely to express concern about the potential consequences of disciplinary monitoring software.

The group says tracking software, from companies like Securly and GoGuardian, offers a wide range of capabilities, from blocking adult content and flagging certain keywords (slurs, profanity, term which is accompanied by self-harm, violence, etc.) to allow teachers to watch students screen in real time and make changes.

Clarice Brazas, a teacher in public schools in Philadelphia, was alarmed at the ability to remotely monitor screens. The district provides Chromebooks to qualified students, but he is concerned about the consequences of disciplining monitoring software in a district where most students are not white and have low incomes.

“I didn’t know it was my job as a police teacher what the students looked at inside when they were at home,” he said. “I consider it family work.”

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