New, advanced tracking technology finally gave a Connecticut mom the peace of mind she sought for her special needs child in school. Then the school district slammed the door on the idea, citing privacy concerns.
The mom reached out to the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters to see if they could get some answers.
Seven year old Collin Northrup has Down Syndrome. His mother Helen explains he tends to bolt, a common symptom many Down Syndrome patients have. Helen Northrup explains any time an exterior door gets opened an alarm goes off, "He's ended up in stranger's homes, if he would have went the wrong direction down our street he could have ended up in a sex offenders house."
Northrup says Collin also tried to take off from school twice last year, something the Naugatuck school district won't verify. Northrup says Collin's doctor suggested she try out GPS systems to track kids like her son. She finally settled on one by a company called AngelSense, "It clips to his clothing. He can't remove it. The other devices he was able to remove from his clothing, and flush it down the toilet or throw it away, it's an amazing breakthrough. It really is."
Within a few days of wearing it to school, when Northrup told the district Collin had the device on, she says the district told her he could not wear it. The district raised concerns about AngelSense's Listen In feature, a microphone separate from the GPS tracking that allows someone monitoring Collin to hear what he's doing or if he is in danger.
The listening device is off during school hours, Northrup explains. The only ones who can turn it on are the police department, or the school district. Superintendent Sharon Locke decided though, that the district could not permit Collin on school grounds with the device. She gave a brief on camera statement" with new technology, and with any requests to bring new devices in to our schools, we want to be really careful we are protecting the rights of the privacy of all the children in the classroom."
Nery Ben-Azar, one of the founders of AngelSense, explains the company has several thousand customers in the U.S. The NYPD confirms the company's technology helped locate a 17 year old autistic boy that took off into the subway system last December, “During the last year we were already, fortunate enough really, to literally save the life of several kids."
Ben-Azar says his company contacted the school district about a solution to this issue, “We have developed this feature, an automatic feature, that disables, totally disables the ability to listen in during school hours. It’s being done automatically.”
ACLU of Connecticut Legal Director Dan Barrett says while the use of this device puts a student's right to privacy on a collision course with a disabled students' right to have what he or she needs to be in a classroom, there's no reason both cannot be respected, “In this situation it seems like there's a pretty obvious work around that checks both boxes in effect. It makes sure the students' rights in both areas are protected."
Six weeks after this dispute over Collin’s GPS tracker began, and a month after we began asking questions, the matter has been resolved. The school district let Collin return to class with the AngelSense device as long only the district or police can activate the microphone during school hours, a great relief to his mom.
“This device will save his life."
The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters reached out to the school district to find out what led to its decision to let Collin return to school with the GPS tracker. The superintendent has not responded.