Teacher Spying Is Instilling Surveillance Culture Into Students

The process began for teachers at the California Teachers Association’s 2021 LGBTQ+ Issues Conference in October. Kelly Baraki and Lori Caldeira shared their experiences in identifying potential members for UBU, UBU’s school club of LGBTQ supporters. “When we were doing our virtual learning—we totally stalked what they were doing on Google, when they weren’t doing schoolwork,” Caldeira said. One of them had been searching for “Trans Day of Visibility.” We were like “Check.” “We’re going on campus to invite this kid”

No matter how you view LGBTQ issues. The fact that teachers can monitor what students are doing online is something to be aware of. The teacher was not looking at the browser history from a class computer. Caldeira stated, with a sly smile, that they were following the children. Caldeira and Baraki claimed that their presentation was all about the running of such clubs in “conservative communities.” It is obvious that conservative teachers have the ability to spy on online activity of children.

Caldeira currently works in Salinas at Buenavista Middle School, Salinas, California. InflationContinue reading (over the story) GoGuardianZoom class monitoring software, such as, is a common tool to monitor what students do in Zoom classes. GoGuardian is used by approximately 30,000 schools. It claims to be able to create “digital learning environments that every student can succeed.”

The schools do have a right to protect students. GoGuardian’s supporters point out the possibility that it might catch students searching, for example, “how do I commit suicide?” Extreme cases can lead to bad policy, just as in law. What if the “digital Learning Environment” tool also records data on non-life-threatening behaviour? Can school officials be expected to keep a straight line about what to flag or when to intervene?

GoGuardian’s SiteFeatures a testimonial by a district administrator. One student who was new to the district wrote in his journal that he struggled to find his place. The administrator could connect the student with support services after certain words set off an alarm. This may have worked for him, but many kids don’t want their school administrators to read their journals. (GoGuardian could not “get any executive spokesperson availability” for my questions.

Justin Reich, a former teacher who spent 15 years as an education technology consultant and who now directs MIT’s Teaching Systems Lab, says, “Generally speaking, I think school policy gives quite wide leeway for schools and districts to have the capacity to view almost anything that happens on school devices, networks and services.” He is concerned about that. He says, “We must consider how schools induct students into surveillance cultures.”

Reich’s podcast featured Chris Gilliard from Macomb Community College. TeachLabSchools have been “a place people watch and be watched” for ages. It is in the nature of the viewing that the difference lies today. Through devices at home, students are monitored at school and beyond. How do schools draw the line between student behaviour monitoring, reporting requirements, and privacy? Do these policies define the boundaries? Oder are schools acting like they’re flying by the seat o their pants?

Elana Zeide is an expert in student privacy at the University of Nebraska School of Law. They should have taken the time to put their policies together after two years of distant learning.

The tools may not be working as intended. Zeide indicates that online proctoring does not reduce cheating.

Equity is another issue. Schools can issue devices similar to work-issued, but they are not expected to be used exclusively for school purposes. Students often have a second device that they can use for their personal purposes at home, which allows them to avoid the scrutiny of schools surveillance cameras. Zeide points out that this disadvantages students with lower incomes who might only have the school-issued device.

Zeide is also concerned about a bigger issue. She says that students have been subject to surveillance, which has been proven to chill their speech and curiosity. This could be described as their intellectual privacy. Student who feel that they are being watched may not be as likely to seek out “acceptable” ideas, or search the web for answers to questions they don’t want to answer in class.

Are there steps schools can take to reduce the need for online surveillance? Zeide is calling for better teacher training as the effectiveness of these tools depends on their use. Schools have the option to turn off surveillance after school hours. GoGuardian provides such an option. Then there is transparency. Zeide states that schools must inform parents of what data they are collecting, even if it’s not permanent.

Although it may be the best practice, how many schools actually follow this? This is what I want to know.

Zeide responds, “That is a wonderful question.”