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Covid trackers for student-athletes shelved at Washington state high school

Eatonville School District Superintendent Gary Neal said the program was "temporarily shelved pursuant to further parent input."

A Washington state high school is shelving a program that would have required student-athletes and coaches to wear tracking monitors to trace potential exposure to the coronavirus.

Eatonville High School in Eatonville, about 60 miles south of Seattle, planned on providing the devices, or proximity monitors, to athletes who participate in high-contact and moderate indoor sports, including football.

But during a school board meeting Wednesday night, administrators said they would not use the devices following pushback from some parents.

"The proximity monitors have been temporarily shelved pursuant to further parent input," Superintendent Gary Neal said in a statement Thursday.

The school said earlier this week that the monitors would be used to "immediately determine who might have been exposed to Covid-19."

"Athletes and coaches not in contact with the player who tested positive can continue to participate in the sport," the school said Tuesday on its website.

Without the devices, entire teams could be forced to quarantine if a player or a coach tested positive.

IMAGE: Eatonville High School in Eatonville, Wash.
Eatonville High School in Eatonville, Wash.Google Maps

The monitors use sensors to track a person's distance to another person wearing the device, as well as how long they are around each other. The devices, which the district paid for with a grant, will be worn only while players are on the field.

Triax Technologies, the company that makes the monitors, said the devices do not track location data and do not store personal information about the wearer such as names.

"Many large organizations across North America have benefited from using the solution to reduce the number of employees they possibly had to quarantine if an outbreak occurred," the company said in a statement.

The school said parents had been notified about the devices and were invited to a meeting to get more information. Parents had to sign consent forms to allow their children to wear them, the school said earlier in the week.

Some parents lashed out at the school, saying the devices are an invasion.

"They're putting tracking devices on my kid," Jason Ostendorf, a parent, told The News Tribune of Tacoma prior to the district's announcement that the program was shelved. The newspaper said the devices were going to be mostly worn on wrists.

Ostendorf has two children in the school's athletic program; his son is a football player, and his daughter plays volleyball. He said he felt he had no choice but to sign the form because he was told his children would not be able to play otherwise.

"My son has played football since he was in third grade. He's passionate about the sport," he told the newspaper. "I signed it reluctantly. It's either that or he doesn't play. ... It's not optional. If you don't sign the waiver, they don't get to play. You have no choice in the matter."

Neal said in a letter to parents Tuesday that the devices would prevent officials from having to remove students from class and sports unnecessarily.

"It allows us to keep more students engaged and involved in class as well as athletic activities. This is a top priority for staff and families here in Eatonville," Neal said. "This school year we can expect numerous changes and for situations to be dynamic."

Some professional sports have already been using similar devices. The NFL, the NBA and Major League Baseball announced that players would wear Kinexon's SafeZone tags to help trace contacts should players test positive.

The NFL said the tags, which do not record location and personal data, have been deployed leaguewide and must be worn by players and club personnel when they are at club facilities, during practices and during team travel.