New Albany-Plain Local's Sawyers: Article about tracking students was 'misleading'

SARAH SOLE
ssole@thisweeknews.com
New Albany-Plain Local Superintendent Michael Sawyers, pictured with second-grader Sam Trempe in December 2017, apologized to parents during a June 8 school board meeting for any alarm caused by an online article from a technology website that said the district was implementing a student-surveillance system to comply with COVID-19 coronavirus safety measures.

New Albany-Plain Local School District Superintendent Michael Sawyers apologized to parents during a June 8 school board meeting for any alarm caused by an online article from a technology website that said the district was implementing a student-surveillance system to comply with COVID-19 coronavirus safety measures.

The article on wired.com said the district planned to pilot tracking technology during summer-school classes and implement it in August. The website said the technology would come from a company called Volan, which sells Bluetooth beacons to some schools as a safety tool.

“That is not accurate, and it has been taken completely out of context,” Sawyers said.

Sawyers said he apologized that parents learned of the information from a “misleading” article rather than from the district directly, and district leaders anticipated they would get to review the article prior to its publication.

Although the article said the district would implement a surveillance system that would use contact tracing to understand how students congregate, district leaders have not made any commitment to use the technology for the next school year and have not invested in anything, Sawyers said.

Rather, he said, they were considering implementing a pilot program in two hallways in New Albany Middle School to understand how the software could be used in a school setting.

He said the opportunity came out of an ongoing conversation with a district parent about software advancements that could enhance student safety on campus.

New Albany students have ID badges that grant them access to campus buildings, Sawyers said. This technology is similar, in that it would be assigned to specific students and record which classrooms students were in at what points in time. The system also has been expanded to include the ability to record students’ temperatures, he said.

The district does not intend to track students beyond the campus, Sawyers said. The surveillance-system investigation was meant to be a safety-and-security conversation for exploration, he said.

District spokesman Patrick Gallaway said the district has not determined whether to go through with the pilot program, which would include students and staff members on a voluntary basis.

“I think there’s still discussions to have,” he said.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

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