Schools Worried About Tracking Devices
TOLEDO, Ohio — Kristy Rothe knows her son, who has autism, can get out of school and wander when stressed.
It is a fear that is partially alleviated by the AngelSense GPS device that he wears every day.
But local districts are concerned that the device, which also allows a parent to listen to the child’s surroundings, violates the privacy rights of teachers and students, and schools are crafting policies to address the matter.
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Perrysburg Schools will consider an update at its next board of education meeting that would prohibit using devices like AngelSense without written permission from the district superintendent.
Perrysburg Superintendent Tom Hosler said there has not been an incident that spurred this proposed policy change.
Rather, the change was proposed by NEOLA, a policy group that monitors changes in the law and technology within education.
“It came through as an alert,” Hosler said. “Somewhere, something occurs, and NEOLA tells you.”
He said he understands why parents would want to use a device like this but is concerned the listening feature could violate the privacy rights of students.
That explanation doesn’t add up for Rothe, who said she has not used the listening function on her son’s AngelSense device.
“A classroom is an open book and should be an open book,” she said. “Anything said is no longer private. … I’m only hearing what was heard by my son.”
That can be especially important for parents of children with autism, Autism Society of Northwest Ohio Executive Director Linell Weinberg said, because they often struggle to report the details of their day to the extent other children do. That coupled with potential bullying and past negative experiences with sub-par childcare or educators can leave parents wanting an extra layer of supervision for their children.
“Sometimes they’re just wary,” Weinberg said. “The technology moves faster than our ability to think of the repercussions of it.”
Pat Corbett, an associate with NEOLA, said he was not even aware the device existed until eight months ago.
“It’s a very well intentioned device,” he said. “It’s not the GPS issue we think schools need to be concerned about.”
He said the device could be used to broadcast overheard conversations to a child’s parent, which implicates the privacy rights of students and teachers in the classroom.
“You just can’t set up shop and start broadcasting without violating someone’s rights,” he said.
Nery Ben-Azur, one of AngelSense’s founders, said the listen-in feature is needed since most of a child’s time is inside, where the GPS tracking function is not always accurate. It also makes for a poor eavesdropping device, he said.
“It does not record anything, and the voice quality is low,” he said. “The mic is covered by the protective case and wearing accessory and usually worn in a pants pocket or below a shirt. Most of the time you can hear the child and the surrounding sounds but not so much as to understand what other people are saying.”
Ohio is a one-party consent state, meaning only one participant in a conversation needs to know it’s being recorded to comply with the law. But that does not matter for overheard conversations, Corbett said. The device allows educators to turn off the audio broadcasting capabilities while at school, but that could quickly become unwieldy.
“How many consoles can one manage reasonably?” he said. “Sometimes the unintended consequences can be overwhelming.”
Other districts have not considered new policies, though already existing policy could govern the use of these devices. Rossford and Sylvania schools, for example, both have policies prohibiting without permission the transmission or recording of any audio or video from any school-related activity.
Mary Walters, the director of the Autism Model School in Toledo, said she only knows of one similar device at her school of 110 students. She has not issued any sort of policy statement to staff or parents but said it could become necessary depending on how prevalent the devices become.
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