Is someone listening? What districts can do about a student monitoring device

Safety-oriented assistive technology for children with special needs has proliferated in recent years. One of the more recent devices is called AngelSense. The name sounds innocuous, but its potential misuse is raising concerns for school districts.


Recently, districts have been faced with an increased number of requests to permit AngelSense in their classrooms. The device is a GPS tracker with a corresponding app, and it’s designed for parents to locate a child with special needs who may elope. While it’s not a recording device, the device does have a “listen-in” feature, which is raising red flags for many schools.


The ability of a third party to listen in to another conversation without his/her consent is a privacy concern. Some states require consent from all parties to a conversation before such a “listen-in” device can be used. However, in Ohio, only one party’s consent is required. But there are other legal issues that a school district must consider when faced with a request for student use of AngelSense (or similar device). For example, there are numerous laws that protect students from discrimination, especially a child with a disability. Those include the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Schools must be cautious not to deny a child with a disability a service or privilege that other students can access. With this in mind, when an AngelSense request is made, a school may permit or deny the request in accordance with the district’s policies. It is important to consider relevant policies (such as those for recording/transmitting information) as well as the capabilities of other electronic devices, such as smartphones (don’t forget those have pesky features like GPS and recording, too) that non-disabled students utilize at school. Then, be sure that the school’s response to the request is applied uniformly and in alignment with such policies.


Additionally, schools may need to consider the Individual with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 and corresponding state obligations as to whether the child requires use of the device in order to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). This may become an especially important analysis when elopement is a significant concern for a child. Also, be sure to document the team’s consideration of the request, including whether the device would be appropriate assistive technology for the child.


Lastly, the school may request that listen-in devices be disabled during school hours. This request can be placed into a formal agreement with the family, with specific hours set for the listen-in schedule. To enact this agreement, the school will use the school dashboard feature once it is set up by the family. While it is important to note that only a primary guardian for the device will have automatic access to edit the listen-in schedule, AngelSense can, and will, remove the primary guardian’s ability to edit the listen-in schedule should the school request it. Moreover, once a parent/guardian agrees, AngelSense can send notifications to the district when the listen-in feature is deactivated or activated.


Regardless of the route the school takes, remember to conduct appropriate consideration of a request, apply policies uniformly and analyze whether the device is necessary to provide a FAPE on an individual basis. Ultimately, districts may even find that they need to develop appropriate policies to address similar requests in the future.


Lisa Woloszynek is an attorney at Walter | Haverfield who focuses her practice on education law. She can be reached at lwoloszynek@walterhav.com and at 216-619-7835.