GoGuardian, a software where staff can watch what students are doing on district computers in real time, receives final approval for an $210,000 dollar contract with the BOE.
Yale Daily News
On Monday, the Board of Alders unanimously voted to enter into a three-year contract, worth $210,000, with GoGuardian, a controversial computer program that monitors student internet activity on New Haven Public Schools devices.
GoGuardian, a software company based out of California, allows teachers to monitor their students’ online activity until 4 p.m. every school day to limit distractions on their devices. If a student is logged into a device with GoGuardian, their teacher can see everything they are doing — from a Google search to watching a video on YouTube in real time.
After the contract was initially agreed to in 2021, the program was implemented in several school districts across the country — including the New Haven Public Schools System — after the pandemic caused districts to shift to remote learning. Now, the software appears to be here to stay, even as students return to the classroom and despite concerns that have been voiced by teachers and students. The agreement originally fell through the cracks due to changes in staffing at the BOE and because of an issue with its filing with the BOA; It is therefore being voted on almost eight months after the initial contract was signed.
Leslie Blatteau, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, criticized the contract, saying it would not improve the education of NHPS students.
“We’re feeling surprised and frustrated,” Blatteau said. “I think even the district would agree that we need more high quality in person, less screen based learning experiences, because that’s what the research tells us is best for young people … we need more ways to connect in person, not more ways to sow mistrust or have students feeling alienated.”
NHPS IT Director Gilda Herrera explained that while classes were remote, more than 35,000 devices were provided to NHPS students through COVID-19 relief grants. The Board of Education then felt the “need to monitor the students” during virtual and hybrid learning, Herrera said, due to difficulties with students staying on task and some inappropriate online communication.
According to Herrera, even though schools have reopened for in-person instruction, teachers still “need the ability to monitor” students while they are working on their district-provided or personal electronic devices in the classroom.
The BOA unanimously approved the agreement. Alder Adam J. Marchand added that NHPS had told the BOA that the software had been useful for staff and thus they asked for consent to the contract.
GoGuardian pitched to the Finance Committee
At a meeting of the BOA Finance Committee on Monday, Feb. 14, Herrera spoke about GoGuardian and the proposed multi-year contract. The committee did not take a vote on the item, instead expediting it to go in front of the full board the following week.
“If the teacher doesn’t want them, let’s say, on YouTube, on Instagram, TikTok, whatever,” Herrera said. “We’re actually focusing and assisting the teachers in managing their classrooms because now the students, even though they’re on-site, have a device in hand. So the teachers must be able to see what they’re doing on those devices, to keep them on task.”
Student Board member Anthony Fiore said that he is not aware of any formal notification of this program going into usage in the district and was surprised that the district had begun using a program to surveil students without notification.
“Students need to be made more aware of these changes made to the computers,” Fiore said. “This program can be detrimental to the students trusting the schools and vice versa.”
GoGuardian monitors the online activity of all students who are logged into their NHPS Google Classroom accounts, regardless of whether their device was issued by the district, according to Herrera. The program turns off at 4 p.m. each day, only running during school hours.
Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa expressed concerns about the violation of privacy associated with the GoGuardian application. But Herrera responded that “we’re monitoring the actual software and the application that we’re providing, we’re not monitoring your personal Yahoo.”
In response to concerns about their web program infringing upon student privacy, Jeff Gordon, GoGuardian’s director of Public Relations and Communications, wrote to the News in a statement that “Schools across the U.S. trust GoGuardian’s tools to help keep students safe and ensure school compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).”
“Important steps we take to keep students’ and schools’ personal information safe and private include ensuring schools own and control their Personal Student Information, employing a dedicated privacy team, using advanced data security technologies, and being certified by iKeepSafe as fully compliant with Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA),” Gordon added.
The three-year contract with GoGuardian will be funded through federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, or ESSER II, grants, according to City Budget Director Michael Gormany.
ESSER II allocations to NHPS have already been used to fund the first year of the program. According to Gormany, the pricing for the GoGuardian service will increase by about $20,000 each year unless a multi-year contract is agreed upon, which is why the Board of Education is advocating for this longer agreement.
Ward 15 Alder Ernie Santiago asked for further clarification on this delay, and complained that the planning team behind the GoGuardian contract had “come to us like a week before we have to vote on it.”
Gormany said that the Board of Education’s liaison to the Board of Alders had left during that time, leading to a transitional period in which the GoGuardian deal was neglected.
However, Leslie Blatteau told the News that she believed that the $210,000 for GoGuardian could be better spent.
“I think it’s worth thinking holistically about what we could do to increase trust in our school system,” Blatteau said. “I think that’s going to come with more opportunities for small group discussions, more opportunities for more adults to get to know students … we could spend money on that and then having more adults in the room would increase trust because more students would feel known and would feel seen or heard.”
The GoGuardian educational technology company, based out of Los Angeles, was founded in 2014.
Sylvan Lebrun reports on City Hall. She previously covered nonprofits and social services in the New Haven area. She is a sophomore in Pauli Murray College majoring in English.