North Carolina Schools Ground Drones for Liability Concerns

Wake County is developing a new policy that would regulate how schools and outside groups could fly drones on school property. Science teachers say the drones have a wide range of educational uses.

by T. Keung Hui, The News & Observer / August 29, 2019

(TNS) — Students could be allowed to fly drones at Wake County schools again after having been grounded the past few years because of liability concerns.

The Wake County school system is developing a new policy that would regulate how schools and outside groups could fly drones on school property. School leaders say they recognize the educational benefits of using drones but want to make sure they’re operated in a way that won’t put the district at legal risk.

“Schools have been on hold with the few that have used drones,” Lloyd Gardner, Wake’s chief of staff, told school board members on Tuesday. “This will start accelerating the use of drones.”

The board’s policy committee backed the proposed policy. It’s scheduled to go to the full school board for initial approval on Sept. 17.

Paul Cancellieri, a science teacher at Rolesville Middle School, says he looks forward to using drones in class. He says there are a wide range of educational uses for operating drones.

For instance, Cancellieri said science classes can teach students how to code drones to take off and land on targets. He said math classes can use aerial photography as a tool for making geometry more tangible for kids.

“They are so easy to fly that it gives a lot of flexibility while teaching about responsible decisions around safety and privacy,” Cancellieri said in an interview Wednesday.

Near the end of the 2017-18 school year, Wake told schools to ground their drones until the district developed a policy regulating their use. Commercial vendors, such as contractors who fly drones to check school roofs for damage, were allowed to continue flying.

Drone rules have been evolving locally and nationally as the unmanned aircraft have become more popular.

Under Wake’s new proposed rules, drones could only be flown for educational or commercial uses. Recreational drone use above school airspace would be prohibited.

Drones could only be flown after first being registered with the district’s Risk Management Department. Rules for their use include that they can only be used on school property during daylight hours and can’t be flown over crowds.

“We all now through the policy understand the risks working with drones,” Marlo Gaddis, Wake’s chief technology officer, told the school board. “So one of the things we want to make sure before anybody embarks upon purchasing a drone or using a drone is that they have a conversation with Risk Management and Technology Services.”

Other rules include requiring the express written permission from the superintendent before drone footage can be shot of students and school employees or any school events. They’d also be bound by N.C. High School Athletic Association rules that prevent drones over stadiums or fields during athletic competitions.

Schools that want to have students program and operate drones would need written approval from the superintendent. The program must also be led by a school employee who has a drone pilot’s license from the Federal Aviation Administration.

“It might not shock you, but right now you’re drafting policy for all school systems in the state too,” Jonathan Blumberg, the school board’s attorney, told the policy committee. “Once you finish it, it’s going to be all around the state.”

©2019 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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