Bring Back Google Chat


New restrictions prevent students from utilizing Google Chat. (Source: Google)

Frustrations have recently broken out among Boston Latin School students due to an unexpected ban of the Google Chat function in Gmail. Prior to the ban, Google Chat was used by many students as an efficient way to communicate with their peers and teachers before, during and after school.

With countless rumors circulating regarding the ban, Head of School Rachel Skerritt clarifies, “What we saw overwhelmingly was that the Google Chat function was not achieving any academic outcomes but seemed to be the source of significant distraction, as we did look at some Gmail chat exchanges. For various reasons, we saw that a lot of them were happening during the school day during class time […] and we didn’t find, talking to the faculty, that they were really using that function for any assignment purpose.”

Head of School Skerritt highlights a valid claim. High school students, however, should have the right to make decisions on their own account. Removing the platform completely is not fair to students who utilize it maturely and appropriately. If the use of Google Chat distracts a student during class or negatively impacts their academic performance, then they should face their own consequences, whether it be decreasing grades or misdemeanor marks. The whole student body should not have to bear their punishment.

This would also be a good chance for students to get a feel of the “real world.” Outside of school, people have the freedom to use resources like Google Chat for good or for ill, but if they overindulge or use them irresponsibly, people will inevitably face consequences. School is supposed to prepare students for the future. If they are not given the opportunity to learn and grow by self-regulating, then that learning will happen at a time where the stakes may be much higher.

BLS Director of Technology Mr. Patrick Hourigan speaks about another one of the main downsides to Google Chat, saying, “As we strive to provide a safe and welcoming atmosphere for all of our students, there was a small group of students who used [Google Chat] to post content that ran in opposition to these shared community values.”

Undoubtedly, we should dedicate all efforts to make the BLS community as safe as possible, as it was only a small portion of students who used the Google Chat function in an irresponsible way. Students who use this function in harmful ways should have this privilege revoked, and others who adhere to community guidelines should still be able to enjoy this privilege.

The majority of the student body views Google Chat as a harmless tool to make communication more accessible among their classmates, especially outside school, where some may not have had other ways to connect with their peers. Everyone has access to a Chromebook, meaning that Google Chat is available to everyone, even outside school.

Although regular email is an option as well, there is a sense of formality that comes with writing and sending emails. Google Chat helped break this formal barrier between students, leading to faster-forming relationships within the community, especially during a time where “some [younger] students are having difficulties forming relationships and being comfortable around each other,” says Tandin Johnson-Ward (I), a peer mentor.

Students who are still unfamiliar with others may not feel comfortable exchanging personal information such as phone numbers. The Google Chat function made it possible for students to effectively communicate about academics without crossing any boundaries.

Furthermore, many students, like Benjamin Davidson (IV), believe that “this ban has sparked a lot of distrust in administration among the student body. Regardless of whether or not we bring Google Chat back, communication between students and administrators should be more transparent. I also wish they would’ve listened to our opinions first.”

Davidson speaks for a lot of students who are frustrated with the current situation. Amid the frustration, however, it is important to keep in mind that there is not one grade that is entirely responsible for the ban. It benefits no one to target rage at a specific group of people, and for the benefit of all, it may have been helpful to disable the function for middle school students who require more monitoring and regulations, but keep it for high school students who deserve more personal freedom.

If Google Chat is brought back with clear usage guidelines as well as repercussions for misuse, the student body will be more than capable of using it in an appropriate and responsible manner. For students who are unable to abide by BLS community values, there should be individual disciplinary action taken. Above all instances of misuse, Google Chat has still proven beneficial to students and the formation of relationships that are the beating heart of our community.