Playing Hooky in Illinois Gets Harder with Technology
Ridgewood High School in Tinley Park, Ill., has installed beacons throughout the school that connect with software installed in every student’s iPad. The system records when students enter and leave the building.
(TNS) — Ridgewood High School administrators are testing a system this summer that will allow them to monitor students' school issued iPads within school grounds in an effort to better monitor attendance, tardiness and class cuts.
Over the summer break, new beacons were installed throughout the school that connect to software called Spotter loaded onto each student's iPad, said Principal Chris Uhle.
"The only tracking going on is inside the building. If a kid didn't show up to school we can't track them to see if they're at their house," Uhle said.
The Spotter beacons have been placed throughout the school to record each time a student enters or exits a classroom, but do not have a strong enough signal to reach outside the building, Uhle said.
"There is no GPS mechanism imbedded in this program," said Superintendent Jennifer Kelsall, "It's all based on a beacon -- the signal is picked up via the internet and sent to our server."
This year's freshman class will operate on a new flex schedule, which allows students to create their own schedule based on their educational needs rather than having a traditional class period structure in place.
The new technology is being implemented to help staff and administration track attendance more effectively under that schedule, Kelsall said.
"The traditional attendance system can't really meet these needs so we've had to search elsewhere to find a system that works for us," she said.
The Spotter app will recognize where a student is supposed to be at any given time, according to their schedule, and search for a signal from a beacon to recognize that the student has entered or exited a classroom, said Chris Anderson, Spotter chief technology officer.
"It's kind of like a lighthouse," said Anderson. "The devices are looking for a signal. The beacon lets the application know that they're close to that classroom just like a lighthouse lets you know that you're close to shore."
The spotter app will look for a beacon for 30 minutes before the start of class, through the entire class period and for 30 minutes after the end of class, and will record when a student comes to class and when they leave, Anderson said.
Kelsall said she thinks the new Spotter technology will help make records more accurate and will better monitor how much time students actually spend in the classroom, rather than just recording whether they showed up to the start of class.
"This is really designed to reduce human error when tracking attendance, and now we can start to log instructional minutes instead of periods," Kelsall said.
Dean of Students Gina Castellano said this will help improve communication between parents, students and staff.
"Being able to actual give a number of minutes the student was in class instead of general 'cut a class' will allow us to have more genuine conversations with students and parents," Castellano said.
An expert from the American Civil Liberties Union said the only way this program would violate a student's privacy is if the student's whereabouts were tracked outside of the classroom.
Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy at the ACLU of Illinois, said tracking a students' every move, including how many times they visited the bathroom or how much time they spent in the hallway with a friend during a free period, would constitute an invasion of privacy.
"I think overall, it is a potentially powerful use of technology which could have a number of invasive properties to it -- but it all depends on how it's used and who has access to the data, and how that is protected," he said.
Kelsall said the beacons will only pick up signals when students enter or exit a designated "learning location," so Spotter will not record when a student goes to the bathroom or anywhere that isn't a learning location.
Yohnka said that because the iPads are used by the school, tracking them is understandable, but the policies need to be in place to respect students' privacy, even within the school.
"It's necessary that the administration designate a narrow group of people who will have access to this data and make it clear what they can and cannot share and with whom," Yohnka said.
Kelsall said data will be stored on servers and teachers and administrators will have the same access to students' attendance records that they had with the previous tracking system. That means teachers only have access for students in their classes, while administrators can access all students' records.
Parents will be notified of students' tardies, cuts or absences by the same process the school previously used, Kelsall said. Records will be kept until students are no longer enrolled in the school.
Parents will be notified by mail about the Spotter program before the start of the school year, but it has not been determined whether opting out of Spotter will be an option.
"I don't anticipate a lot of pushback," said Kelsall. "The iPads are the school's property and parents have not taken issue with anything we've done with the school's property."
The Ridgewood High School District 234 Board voted unanimously June 24 to approve the Spotter program.
©2019 The Daily Southtown (Tinley Park, Ill.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.