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

Top Stories

KSL Investigates

Matt Gwyther (left) and Dennis Rowley Gwyther (right). (Photo Provided By: Matt Gwyther)...
Daniella Rivera

How mental health staffing shortages are delaying justice in Utah’s courts

A Utah man waiting for justice after the 2019 murder of his husband says staffing issues at the Utah State Hospital have contributed to months of delays in court.
3 days ago
Mike Headrick and Cindy St. Clair, KSL TV

Newly built homes deemed unlivable due to sliding soil

If you want to know what a sinking home sounds like, just ask Eric and Carole Kamradt.
4 days ago
Brenda White cookies...
Matt Gephardt

Gephardt Busts Inflation: Rent prices down nationwide but very high in Utah

All over the country, the cost of rent is finally starting to go down. But that is not the case here in Utah.
6 days ago
Matt Gephardt

Get Gephardt: Cybersecurity experts caution shoppers to take it slow while shopping online

For many of us, Christmastime is magical. For scammers, it’s especially magical. Here's what to beware of when shopping online.
12 days ago
Gephardt makes butter...
Matt Gephardt and Sloan Schrage, KSL TV

Gephardt Busts Inflation: Can you save money by making your own butter?

Prices for groceries are up, but the price we pay for butter is way, way up – to the point it will impact your holiday baking budget.
13 days ago
(KSL TV)...
Matt Gephardt & Sloan Schrage, KSL TV

Packed holiday flights: How SLC Int’l stacks up against US’s largest airports in delays and cancelations

Travelers, brace yourselves: holiday flights will be packed.
13 days ago

Sponsored Articles

house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 reasons you may want to consider apartment life over owning a home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Take this quiz before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t let a ransomware attack get you down | Protect your workplace today with cyber insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Safety feature or distraction? Debate over kid-tracking watches in the classroom