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Google Chromebook quirk forces a decision: Parental controls or schoolwork?

Some parents who bought Google Chromebooks for their kids who are learning remotely amid shutdowns related to coronavirus are facing a frustrating choice: Protect their children with secured browsing or allow them access to their schoolwork.

Parents have been expressing concerns on Google forums that parental controls can’t be activated for students who use their school email addresses to log in to Google Classroom on a personally owned Chromebook.

When school districts all over the country announced they would be shutting down to help stem the spread of the coronavirus, officially called COVID-19, many parents purchased the relatively inexpensive Chromebooks to mimic students’ classroom experience. Parents can use Google’s Family Link app to control what websites and apps are accessed, when, and for how long for accounts identified as minors.

But some students can’t sign in to their schoolwork using those accounts. They need to use school-provided email addresses to access their schoolwork through Google Classroom — but Family Link parental controls can’t be synced to those school accounts.

The Family Link app doesn’t allow parents to add a school email account for the same child user, preventing the child from using different logins to sign into the Chromebook and Google Classroom. It seems the situation is forcing parents to choose between what the Family Link website itself called “healthy digital habits” and accessing learning materials for school during the lockdown, a choice many in the forum and those who spoke to Digital Trends do not think they should have to make.

This issue has been documented dating back to 2019, but more parents are noticing the issue now that remote learning is essential.

“This needs to be sorted ASAP,” wrote one user. “There is no point having a family link app if then all that can be bypassed because of a school account.”

One parent told Digital Trends that placing the same universal security restrictions on his home network like the ones on his child’s school system would prevent adults from viewing blocked sites and restrict when they could use his devices for their own work schedules.

Google Classroom and a few school district representatives Digital Trends reached out to did not immediately respond to requests for comments.

It’s not clear how many users are dealing with this situation. The Chromebooks in this particular scenario are owned by the families, not issued by schools and sent home with students to work with during the coronavirus lockdown.

While parents and teachers do not want kids’ learning disrupted in these uncertain times, the Google forum is full of adults who want students to be able to learn safely.

User Andrew Peterson wrote: “Unfortunately, I can’t add a separate classroom profile for him because, understandably, the school does not allow his classroom account to receive external emails (and thus his classroom Gmail account does not receive the invite to join the family group).”

One possible solution is to have a school district’s IT administrators place some form of “parental” controls on all the students’ school email addresses, which would at least partially take care of this problem. But coordinating a baseline for all the district’s families may be difficult even if the controls mimic what the school network already has in place.

Another solution would be to have Google modify its Family Link app settings to allow more than one account to be associated with the same child, using the same parental controls.

Of course, there is one straightforward workaround for parents: Just don’t use a Chromebook.

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Mythili Sampathkumar
Mythili is a freelance journalist based in New York. When not reporting about politics, foreign policy, entertainment, and…
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