Students, administrators reach compromise after backlash against proposed “Chromebook Mandate”

By Sarah Swenson

In the Whalers Weekly Message sent out on December 8th, Principal Mandy Vasil announced that the school planned to institute a new policy at the start of the second semester that would require students to use only their school-issued device for school work. This sparked immediate backlash from the student body, organized in the form of a letter to Vasil and Vice-Principal Jen Psaradelis, authored by seniors JohnCarl McGrady and Grace Hood, asking the school to rethink this change. The letter, which garnered 133 signatures from the student body, was enough to warrant a response from the school, and, according to McGrady, Vasil met with the two authors and laid out a compromise solution, walking back the initial mandate.

Remote learning has brought its own new set of challenges for teachers and students alike. Some of the students have been online since the spring, and right now the whole school is virtual, and this distance has made it harder for teachers to make sure each student is adequately supported, as they would be in person. One method teachers have been using to guide students in work and make sure they are staying on task is the program ‘GoGuardian’, pre-installed on all school-issued Chromebooks, which allows teachers to remotely monitor and access students’ computers. Teachers can turn on GoGuardian to check students’ progress in assignments, see their work and help them remotely, watch their activity on other tabs, and even shut tabs or block sites remotely if necessary. As Nantucket High School can only legally use GoGuardian on school-issued Chromebooks, the new policy would make every student’s screen accessible. This was the given reason for the policy change.

When Vasil announced this mandate, however, many students were shocked and upset. Students felt that the administration did not understand how the requirement would affect them and their ability to work. Seniors McGrady and Hood quickly organized a letter to the administration urging them to listen to the student point of view. One primary concern from the letter’s co-authors was that school-issued Chromebooks, especially the earlier models that Juniors and Seniors use, are too slow to keep up with all of the tasks students must perform in a school day. Many students use a personal computer to work on assignments in class while their Chromebook stays open to the video-call so its processing power can be completely devoted to keeping their video on and the teacher’s video and audio clear. Some students even purchased new computers at the beginning of this year when it became clear this would be an issue, a point which the letter also brought up. Personal computers tend to have a higher processing speed, so the letter’s signatories argue students with a single device set up using just their own computer can juggle assignments and a video-call without the lag that would be present on Chromebooks. Personal computers are also usually larger, with more features, and have higher customization, which allows students to adjust their devices to best fit their personal learning needs.

Finally, the students addressed the school’s stated concern: that teachers need to be able to see students’ screens to assist and guide their pupils. Hood and McGrady suggested that as assignments on shared Google Documents or Slides can be accessed remotely by teachers to watch their pupils’ progress, a screen monitoring program like GoGuardian is unnecessary. The letter also stated, “we are also aware of the unstated reason for this policy. Many students are cheating during this pandemic, and rates of academic dishonesty have skyrocketed.” The students signing the letter understood the struggle teachers face trying to keep students academically honest when working virtually, and recognized the problem was difficult but necessary to be addressed but explained that, “GoGuardian, however, will do nothing to deter cheaters. There is no reason students can’t just Google answers on their phones or secondary devices without teachers seeing it on their Chromebooks.” However, Vasil says that the policy had nothing to do with academic dishonesty and was solely about the use of GoGuardian. She holds that there is not much the school can do at the moment to curb academic dishonesty and claims the Chromebook mandate was not an attempt to do so. 

Upon receiving this letter of feedback, backed by a large portion of the students, the school administration had to consider the critique. According to sources familiar with the situation, the school plans on changing the policy and compromising with the student body. The compromise policy will likely entail more teacher discretion. Teachers will be able to require students to use their school-issued Chromebooks for certain assignments and let students use their own devices for others. They will also be able to make individual students who are struggling and they think could benefit from closer guidance use their school-issued devices while allowing the rest of the class to work with less supervision. The changed policy would more closely mimic an in-person environment, where some assignments, like tests, are more closely monitored, and students who need more help are able to get more support from their teachers.

As we get closer to the second semester, which begins on January 22nd, we will likely receive confirmation from the school. More information on the details of the new policy from Vasil and Psaradellis will be available then.

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