Parents Can’t Monitor Autistic Son With GPS Tracker At School, Nevada Ruling Says (#GotBitcoin?)
Family wanted to keep tabs on boy’s whereabouts and listen to his surroundings; ruling cites privacy issues. Parents Can’t Monitor Autistic Son With GPS Tracker At School, Nevada Ruling Says (#GotBitcoin?)
The parents of an autistic child in Nevada who fought to have his school let him wear a GPS tracker with the ability to listen in on his surroundings lost their battle in a case that could resonate in school districts across the U.S.
Joshua and Britten Wahrer wanted their 6-year-old son Joshua Jr., who is nonverbal, to use the device at school after his teacher was accused of beating him with a wooden pointer stick and arrested. The Clark County School District in Las Vegas rejected the request, saying the listen-in function could be intrusive to private conversations.
The case has been closely watched by families with special-needs children, who increasingly are in regular classrooms at school. The tracking devices were developed for Alzheimer’s patients but are now being used by parents of children with special needs.
School districts worry the devices could violate the privacy of other students and teachers, and some have banned them or required disablement of any listen-in technology. But some parents say the devices are a way to ensure their vulnerable children are safe and treated well.
In the Las Vegas case, a state-appointed hearing officer agreed with the district, and in a ruling released Thursday said the Wahrers’ son couldn’t have the device at school. The ruling also requires the boy’s principal, teachers and other providers this school year and next school year to each complete four hours of education in areas such as proper restraint and use of positive behavior plans.
“It’s definitely disappointing,” Mr. Wahrer said. “Being able to check on him throughout the day is a peace of mind, and knowing he is safe.”
He added that the device is needed because his son sometimes wanders from class, and the family wants to listen in on him periodically.
The Wahrers’ attorney didn’t rule out an appeal. The school district on Friday said it was still awaiting receipt of the hearing officer’s ruling and would withhold comment until then. In the abuse case, the district would only say that the teacher resigned.
In Lake Travis Independent School District outside of Austin, Texas, the school board this month approved a policy addition that requires parents to get approval from the principal before operating a student-tracking safety device with recording or listen-in capability. The listen-in technology must be disabled at school or school-sponsored events, according to the policy.
“It can be a concern with both state and federal wiretapping laws,” said Amber King, an attorney for the Lake Travis district. “If an individual is wearing it, they could capture or listen in to two parties that are unaware.”
In the Wahrer case, hearing officer Kevin Ryan wrote that the state of Nevada prohibits secretive listening in to any private conversation absent consent by one person. In addition, he said, it is unlawful to engage in such electronic surveillance at a public school without the knowledge of the person being observed, unless it is part of a security system.
Mr. Ryan said the abuse by the teacher cannot be ignored or trivialized. “The teacher’s conduct was deplorable,” he wrote. However, he said there is no evidence to prove that the AngelSense tracking system the Wahrers wanted to use would protect the student from abuse.
The case against the teacher was reduced from a felony child abuse charge to a misdemeanor before being dismissed after she met conditions of completing anger-management counseling and staying out of trouble, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, citing court documents. The documents in the case are now sealed, according to a Las Vegas Justice Court administrator.
Yael Talmor, head of marketing at the maker of the tracking device in the Wahrer case, New Jersey-based AngelSense, said parents can disable the listen-in function. She said that thousands of schools have students using the devices and many welcome the help in tracking special-needs children.
“Some kids feel safe having AngelSense because they know mom and dad are in the pocket,” she said. “It’s not an eavesdropping device.”
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