Monday, January 23, 2012

Data-obsession: Who protects the students?

Public school P.E. programs are incorporating technology to monitor students weight and physical activity habits. According to a recent piece of investigative reporting in the Revered Review, a specific technology from Polar Fitness"is used in more than 10,000 K-12 physical education programs across the United States." The report reviewed the way the technology is being used in a number of states and school districts.

Some of this technology may be beneficial to students and parents may agree with their student's participation. However, little has been published on the cost benefits for parents, community members, or taxpayers to evaluate. In the current data-gathering obsessed environment, the use of this technology has raised concerns regarding:
  • Parent consent

  • Privacy and security

Use of monitors intrusive

Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, the New York affiliate of the ACLU, sent The Revered Review the following statement: “The question here is whether these monitoring programs are voluntary or not. It’s one thing for children to participate voluntarily with their parents’ consent. But if they’re being compelled or shamed into participating, then it’s extremely problematic.”

Lieberman continued: “Monitoring children’s vital signs is very intrusive, and even a voluntary program must have clear privacy safeguards, including limits on how long the data can be stored and who has access to it.”

Security and privacy
Emmett McGroarty, the executive director of the Preserve Innocence Initiative of the American Principles Project, said if schools are using the monitors, there should be full disclosure to the parents. If they are used beyond the school day, it could be “highly dangerous” as it could be an “infringement on parental rights.”

Full disclosure by parents, and the ability to “opt in” rather than “opt out” should be allowed, McGroarty said. “I really would urge the taxpayers to get a closer look at what’s going on, and who is funding this.”

The company issued a press release on January 19, in regards to its Polar Activity monitor: “The activity data is stored on the web service. All information is securely stored and the data is available only to authorized users with a password.”

A company press release does not quite cut the mustard. The school districts need to ensure that parents and students have clarity. That is not too much to ask.

Read the full article for more information.

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