It looks like Parkway parents didn't catch this at the last couple of school board meetings when it was being budgeted for and approved, but hopefully they caught it today in St Louis Today's Suburban Journal. The Parkway school district will outfit all their elementary students with a "health meter" that they will be required to wear 24/7 for a week (for now). Read the full article below.
When is the line crossed between better health and surveillance?
In early 2012, wristwatch-like devices called Polar active monitors will be used by older students in PE classes at all 18 Parkway elementary schools. District officials say the devices should help improve the students' fitness and academic achievement.
Later this school year, the district plans to collect data about activity levels and even sleep patterns for a week at a time. It will have the students wear the devices round the clock.
Some parents and legal experts are raising privacy concerns about at least that aspect of the program.
Ron Ramspott, coordinator of health, outdoor and physical education for Parkway, said a pilot project started in Aprilprovided the monitors during physical education classes to students at Henry and Ross elementary schools. Shenandoah Valley Elementary School in Chesterfield joined the pilot in August.
At the district's Dec. 7 Board of Education meeting, the board approved expanding the project beyond the pilot phase. For the program starting this year at all elementary schools, the district will target grades four and five initially, Ramspott said.The monitors measure activity by tracking every movement of the person wearing them. They display steps taken, calories spent and time spent at various levels of activity. An animated figure on the monitor indicates the activity level. A bar shows the target time for doing moderate to vigorous activity and the amount of time achieved at that level.
Under the pilot program, the three schools each received 25 monitors, which cost $90 apiece. The monitors have been rotated among third-, fourth- and fifth-graders in physical education classes.
Each of the district's elementary schools will receive 25 monitors in January and begin using them in PE class. However, the focus of the monitors' use will change gradually, so that by the end of the year students will continually wear the monitors for a full week at a time to assess activity levels.
"We want to be able to look at both physical activity and sleep patterns," Ramspott said. "We also want to see how various activity levels correlate to student achievement and behavior."
Concerns of parents
Ramspott said Parkway will require parental consent to participate largely because of the responsibility of caring for the monitors. (Really!!? They only want parental consent to care for the monitors - MEW question.)
--> "We haven't had any parents refuse to participate at this point as we have only used them in PE classes," Ramspott said. But some parents and others insist they have concerns.
Beth Huebner, PTO co-president at Ross and mother of sons in first and fourth grades, said she wasn't aware of her older child wearing one of the devices and she was never asked for consent
"I'd want to see data generated to help me understand calories burned and sleep patterns," said Huebner, a professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. "I would ask the district tell me about it particularly if the information would be used for district analysis."
Cara Bauer, PTO president at Shenandoah Valley and mother of a son in first grade and a daughter in fifth grade, said she's heard about the monitors from her daughter, Caroline. She said her daughter doesn't like wearing one and calls them "the funny watch."
"I wish Parkway would let parents know what's going on with the program," Bauer said. "I feel they're getting into privacy issues, into people's personal lives, when they have to be worn at home. That kind of makes me a little leery, and, though I think the monitors are a fantastic idea in school, I don't want that at
home." She questioned how the data will be used.
"What will they do with all this information they'll glean from my kid?" Bauer asked. "I'd be curious to see what information they're getting off these contraptions. They're OK in PE, but they make me question why the district isn't being up front with parents about what the program will be at home."
Neil Richards, a professor of law with Washington University in St. Louis who teaches privacy and civil liberties courses, said he feels the plan for the devices constitutes "a major privacy issue."
"The school district eventually will be engaging in surveillance of kids' sleep and exercise patterns outside the school day," he said. "Though physical activity is important and obesity is a problem, the district could not require kids to wear them because I think it would be a violation of their and their families' Fourth
Amendment rights, which is pretty easily unconstitutional."
And wearing them voluntarily doesn't eliminate privacy concerns, Richards said.
"They'll create a record of medical information about children around the clock," he said. "Even if it serves laudable public health goals, it's a fairly Orwellian step for a school district to engage in."
Benefits of monitoring
--> Ramspott said the current focus in physical education in schools has been on the benefits of especially moderate to vigorous activity. Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity is tied to the intensity of movement, he said. Examples include brisk walking, light jogging, biking, skating and dancing.
It's recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General that people get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most days of the week for obesity prevention, muscle and bone growth, stress
management and cardiovascular fitness, Ramspott said.
"The monitors, by showing their progress, allow students to be accountable for reaching moderate to vigorous physical activity," Ramspott said
He said past research shows kids in physical education class are getting the best health benefits only 6 percent to 10 percent of the time. He said the monitors help teachers more accurately assess that percentage of time.
"So teachers can use the data to figure how to design class time to maximize physical activity," Ramspott said.
He called the devices "a much more fair way of evaluating students with regards to level of participation and physical activity in PE class, which is something that is evaluated on most if not all days in PE."
Ramspott said the district plans to share all physical activity and sleep reports with parents and begin exploring correlations between physical activity, sleep patterns, health risk factors and academic performance.
"Our goal is to reduce risk factors for obesity and encourage higher student achievement," Ramspott said.
Data from both the California Study of 2003, 2005, 2007 and from Parkway show a correlation between increased levels of fitness and higher academic achievement, he said.
"Students who pass more of the fitness proficiency levels on the Parkway Fitness Test score higher on reading and math on both the MAP and SAT-7 tests," he said. "It is a positive linear correlation between fitness levels and math/reading scores on these two tests. It does not prove that fitness makes us smarter, but (it) does bring a strong case for increased fitness and the increased capacity to learn.
Laura Beckmann, physical education and health teacher at Shenandoah Valley Elementary School, said her students can watch the monitors and see their physically active minutes climb up. The school also started a web-based program so she can download each monitors's data and come up with group and individual activity summaries, to track up to three weeks of time.
"These reports will go into portfolios to let kids examine their own behaviors and set goals," Beckmann said.
Amy Sydnor, physical education and health teacher at Ross Elementary School in Creve Coeur, said her students that do not wear the monitors wear pedometers instead. Ramspott said the district uses several methods including pedometers for measuring activity levels in PE class.
Sydnor called the activity monitors "a great resource to ensure kids are getting the amount of activity they need to be healthy.
In the Rockwood School District, staff is completing setting up Polar active monitors to track the activity of fifth-grade students at Blevins Elementary School in Eureka through polargofit.com, said Ed Mathison, health and physical education content facilitator for the district.
Privacy and research
"If a university would do this study, they'd need to have lots of approval and consent from our internal review board, because this is a form of human subject research," Richards said. "Though the district should be applauded for ensuring kids are healthy, this kind of biological surveillance seems to go far beyond what they should be concerned with."
He wonders what's next.
"Will they start monitoring kids' nutrition at home or how many hours they spend reading at home?" Richards asked.
[end Suburban Journal piece]
Questions parents should be asking:
- Is it the job of the school to track student health data?
- Once it's uploaded onto a web-based program, can the district really promise its confidentiality?
- Why does the school want information on activity at home? Is that any of their business?
- What "corrective" actions will children whose activity falls below some set point be required to take? How will that be enforced?
We will have more on this story tomorrow. In the mean time parents should begin thinking about the ramifications of collecting this kind of data.