KSL INVESTIGATES

Safety feature or distraction? Debate over kid-tracking watches in the classroom

Nov 17, 2022, 10:25 PM | Updated: 10:56 pm

SYRACUSE, Utah — Jennifer Steele watches to make sure her 7-year-old daughter makes it home from school every day, thanks to a GPS watch.

It’s not helicopter parenting for Steele. It’s to prevent what happened last spring from ever happening again.

“My daughter, last May, didn’t come home from school,” 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 to track her down.

“When I finally found her, she was like three miles from our home, five miles from the school,” Steele said.

Having lost confidence in the Davis School District and its bus drivers, Steele took matters into her own hands, by making sure her daughter left for school each day wearing the watch.

Jennifer Steele speaking to KSL-TV’s Matt Gephardt (KSL-TV)

It worked for the rest of the school year, but when September rolled around, Steele encountered a problem.

“We got an email saying [the watches] are not allowed. They have to be powered off and put in their backpack,” explained Steele. “You can’t have them out during the school day at all.”

The policy from Steele’s elementary school is clear, stating “privately owned electronic devices… 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.” Additionally, the watch “must be stored in the student’s backpack” all 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 rings at the end of the day.

Steele said the compromise isn’t working. Most days, the watch is still in her kid’s backpack when she arrives home. A couple of times, she says it’s been left at school.

“Only one time has she come home with it on her wrist,” said Steele. “I called the district, and they said they’re not going to give her permission to wear it, it’s district policy, and it sounds like she needs a little more education and training about how to put a watch on. She’s seven.”

KSL Investigators took Steele’s safety concerns to Davis School District spokesperson Chris Williams, who told us the policy is there for a good reason

“There’s nothing that would preclude technology to be put on after school is over while a student gets on a bus and goes home,” said Williams. “We don’t necessarily see devices being worn throughout the day as something that we would necessarily want to occur because that can be something that wouldn’t necessarily help the student stay on task. We want the student to make sure that they’re listening to the teacher.”

Davis School District spokesperson Chris Williams explaining the situation to KSL-TV’s Matt Gephardt (KSL-TV)

In January, KSL’s Deanie Wimmer discovered just how distracting electronics in the classroom can be, with an experiment to find out how many notifications middle schoolers received on their cell phones during one class.

Students were bombarded, receiving 662 notifications for 30 students in 40 minutes. The pings on student cell phones were not only distracting, but it could sometimes take 15 minutes for students to refocus on class.

KSL found numerous times where communication between parents and students in the classroom is important.

In January, parents told KSL they got word their kids were safe during a lockdown at Hunter High School because their kids texted them from their phones while in class.

In September, parents lamented that Layton High School didn’t communicate enough about what was going on when the campus went on lockdown due to a stabbing across the street.

The month before that, students were applauded for reporting a dangerous situation at Granger High School through the SafeUT app. To do so would require students to have their phones in their hands, not their backpacks.

Steele argued unlike middle or high schoolers with multifunctional smart phones, her daughter is an elementary schooler with a watch that has few functions. There are no apps, only preprogrammed phone numbers to guardians, and Steele has the power to lock it during class time.

Davis’s policy is similar to Utah’s largest school district, Alpine, which leaves the electronics policies up to each school. KSL received no response in our attempts to reach an Alpine spokesperson to clarify if GPS watches are allowed.

Granite, Nebo, Jordan, and Canyons school districts all indicated that GPS watches are allowed in the classroom, so long as they are not causing a distraction to students.

Williams said ultimately, it’s a case-by-case scenario if students are allowed to wear tracking watches in class.

“We will do everything we can to try to understand the situation and let the parents understand where we come from and to try to find a happy resolution,” he said.

In Steele’s case, the watch must still stay in the backpack, despite her concerns. She hoped more changes would come to the policy for the sake of her family and others.

“We should have a reasonable expectation that our kids are going to be sent home to us safe when we send them to school,” said Steele. “When that doesn’t happen, we should be able to use the tools at our disposal to make sure that happens.


Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

KSL 5 TV Live

KSL Investigates

Leah Moses...

Annie Knox

Utah lawmakers pass ‘Om’s Law,’ focused on child safety in custody decisions

Utah lawmakers gave final passage to bill requiring judges to consider evidence of domestic violence raised in child custody cases.

3 days ago

Matt Gephardt being shown the double payments that Terry Hutchings has been getting....

Matt Gephardt and Sloan Schrage, KSL TV

Get Gephardt helps homeowner being charged two bills for one security system

Billing for a previous home initially stopped when she sold it, but when she got a new security system from the same provider for her new place a year later it started billing for both.

4 days ago

fences and buildings with an inmate walking on a snowy sidewalk...

Daniella Rivera

New Prison, New Problems: Inside the effort to staff Utah’s new $1 billion prison facility

Utah's new prison cost taxpayers more than a $ 1 billion, yet a scathing audit shows the new facility has been unsafe and still isn't being used as intended. After being granted unprecedented access, the KSL Investigators go inside the new prison for a look at what's being done to fix its new problems.

5 days ago

Neilson-Berg explaining the hassles and trouble she has been going through to get into contact with...

Matt Gephardt

Get Gephardt helps Google Fiber customer get her internet fixed after customer service calls go nowhere

When a Salt Lake City woman's internet connection went down, and she couldn't get a straight answer as to when it would be back up, she decided to Get Gephardt.

5 days ago

dome and side of the Utah Capitol...

Daniella Rivera and Annie Knox, KSL TV

Truth Test: Fact-checking claims from lawmakers who voted to make their calendars secret

The KSL Investigators put lawmakers’ statements about a measure that would conceal their calendars through the KSL Truth Test.

5 days ago

Sean Reyes...

Keira Fairmont

Fight for Transparency: KSL’s 15-month long battle to get Sean Reyes’ calendar

Utah’s Attorney General Sean Reyes still refuses to release his professional calendar despite State Records Committee and Judge’s orders. Now Utah Lawmakers have passed a bill to seal all public officials’ calendars.

5 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Safety feature or distraction? Debate over kid-tracking watches in the classroom