In the past year, school districts in California and elsewhere have contracted with digital surveillance companies to spy on students at school and home, citing the need for mental health support during the pandemic.
Despite being a vigilant and involved parent, I found out only recently that my own kids, who attend high school in the Corona-Norco Unified School District, have been under constant digital surveillance for the past year.
Gaggle.net has a contract with Corona-Norco to monitor email accounts of students in seventh through 12th grade while using their district-issued laptops or school accounts on their own devices, according to district documents. The surveillance is meant to ensure that students aren’t accessing inappropriate content such as porn and also gauge students’ mental well-being by monitoring their accounts for terms and words such as “mentally unstable” and guns. Gaggle content reviewers email administrators with flags and call if they think a student might be in imminent danger of harm or death…
I found out about the program after spotting a line item in the budget consent calendar of the October school board meeting that mentioned a contract with Gaggle.Net for “student mental health monitoring software” and then doing my own research.
Corona-Norco administrators approved their first contract with Gaggle for up to $104,000 using CARES Act funds in November 2020. Last month, the school board approved a yearlong extension for another $104,000. The district added a section about Gaggle to the Parent-Student Handbook in November after I questioned administrators about the lack of parental notification … There are no easy answers when it comes to student safety. For students already struggling to learn in a constrained environment, invasive surveillance with unknown privacy implications and lack of parental input isn’t the right response.
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