Syracuse, Utah — Jennifer Steele uses a GPS watch to make sure her 7-year-old daughter gets home from school every day.
For Steele, it’s not helicopter parenting. It is designed to prevent what happened last spring from ever happening again.
“My daughter didn’t come home from school last May,” Steele explained.
The then-first-grader was allowed to get off at the wrong bus stop, and Steele said she got little help from the school in tracking her down.
“When I finally found her, she was about three miles from our home and five miles from the school,” Steele said.
After losing faith in the Davis School District and its bus drivers, Steele took matters into her own hands by making sure her daughter clocked her school time every day.
It worked for the rest of the school year, but as September rolled around, Steele ran into a problem.
“We got an email that said [the watches] are not allowed. They need to be turned off and put in their backpack,” Steele explained. “You can’t let them out at all during the school day.”
Steele’s elementary school policy is clear, stating that “personally owned electronic equipment … must be turned off as soon as the student arrives at school” and cannot be turned on again until “the student is outside the building.” In addition, the watch must be “stuck in the student’s backpack” throughout the day.
Steele said she worked with the school to reach a compromise: her daughter’s teacher would make sure the watch was back on her wrist and turned on when the bell rang at the end of the day.
Steele said the compromise isn’t working. Most of the time, the watch is still in her child’s backpack when she gets home. A few times she says it got left behind at school.
“Only once did she come home with it on her wrist,” Steele said. “I called the district and they said they wouldn’t give her permission to wear it, it’s district policy and it sounds like she needs a little more education and training on how to put a watch on. She’s seven.”
KSL investigators brought Steele’s safety concerns to Davis School District spokesman Chris Williams, who told us the policy exists for a good reason
“There’s nothing that precludes tech being pulled on after school while a student gets on a bus and heads home,” Williams said. “We don’t necessarily see wearing devices throughout the day as something we’d like to have as it can be something that wouldn’t necessarily help the student stay on task. We want the students to make sure they are listening to the teacher.”
In January, KSL’s Deanie Wimmer discovered just how distracting electronics can be in the classroom with an experiment to find out how many notifications middle school students receive on their phones during a lesson.
Students were bombed and received 662 notifications for 30 students in 40 minutes. Not only were the pings on student cell phones distracting, but it could sometimes take 15 minutes for students to focus on the lesson again.
KSL found numerous instances where communication between parents and students is important in the classroom.
In January, parents told KSL they learned their children were safe during a lockdown at Hunter High School because their children texted them from their phones during class.
In September, parents complained that Layton High School didn’t communicate enough about what was happening when the campus went into lockdown due to a stabbing across the street.
The month before, students received applause for reporting a dangerous situation at Granger High School via the SafeUT app. This would require students to be holding their phones, not their backpacks.
Steele argued that unlike middle school or high school students with multifunctional smartphones, her daughter is an elementary school student with a watch that has few functions. There are no apps, just pre-programmed phone numbers for guardians, and Steele can block them during class time.
Davis’ policy is similar to that of Utah’s largest school district, Alpine, which leaves electronics policy to each school. KSL received no response to our attempts to reach an Alpine spokesperson to clarify if GPS watches were allowed.
The Granite, Nebo, Jordan, and Canyons school districts all indicated that GPS watches are allowed in the classroom as long as they do not distract students.
Williams finally said it was a case-by-case scenario as to whether students would be allowed to wear trackers in class.
“We will do everything we can to understand the situation and let the parents understand where we are coming from and try to find a happy solution,” he said.
In Steele’s case, despite her concerns, the watch must remain in the backpack. She hoped that more changes would be made to the policy for the benefit of her family and others.
“We should have a reasonable expectation that if we send our children to school, they will be safely sent to our homes,” Steele said. “If that doesn’t happen, we should be able to use the tools at our disposal to make sure that happens.
Have you experienced something that you think is just not right? The KSL investigators want to help. Send your tip to email@example.com or 385-707-6153 so we can work for you.