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Eatonville High School ankle monitors
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Rantz: High school’s COVID tracking ankle bracelets are back after pause

Football players at Eatonville High School. (KIRO 7)

Eatonville High School reinstituted COVID contact tracing after initially pausing the program due to privacy concerns.

Student-athletes in the high contact sports of football and volleyball wore ankle bracelets during practices. The coaching staff did the same, all regardless of vaccination status. This was done to stop blanket quarantines for an entire team if a student or staff member contracted COVID.

But after a report that included some significant factual errors, the school paused the program to regroup with parents. After a vote, parents overwhelmingly supported the program, and it’s now been reinstated.

The controversy

Under the contract tracing protocol, school staff would see which students or staff came in close enough contact with someone who tests positive for COVID. Under this plan, those students would be quarantined after exposure, instead of every player. The school and parents viewed it as an innovative way to cut down on unnecessary quarantines, which keeps kids both in school and on the team for, at least, practice.

A report at The Post Millennial claimed one parent did not offer consent. This was true. While the school did consult the parents, one mother of a student on the volleyball team did not know about it, nor did she give consent. The school admits an error in this case.

The report also portrayed the program as only impacting unvaccinated students. This was false. The program applied to all students and staff, regardless of vaccination status. The report has since been updated to better reflect the facts.

After the false part of the story got out, it caused controversy. It’s objectively bad policy and worse optics to “force” unvaccinated students to wear electronic monitoring.

The school temporarily paused the program, as a result of the controversy, to reassess.

The aftermath

Eatonville High School administrators restarted the program shortly after they paused it.

Parents met to discuss the issues around the program. There were few problems presented. In fact, 63 parents of football players voted in favor of the program while two declined. Volleyball parents saw 22 in favor and just three opposed. With that supermajority, the program was reborn.

“Our philosophy is still the same,” a school spokesperson told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “We are looking at finding ways to keep students involved in activities and at school as [much as] possible. We are using the WIAA’s state classification of high contact sports, medium indoor contact classifications as a guideline to which sport may use the proximity sensors.”

Participation in the contact tracing program is, however, mandatory.

“Those who voted no could choose to have their child not participate or have their child wear the sensor to play,” the spokesperson said. “Parents knew it had to be an all or nothing because of the nature of the proximity sensors. Those who were not comfortable are not playing this year. All who are playing are wearing the sensors.”

The discussion

Some parents didn’t see a big deal about the program. Others said it was a reasonable trade-off that allows their kids to play the sport they love and have a shot at scholarships in college.

“If it helps your kids play football, then why not?” a parent told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “It’s not monitoring where they are on the field, it’s not monitoring who they’re talking to or where they go. It’s, ‘hey, you’ve been in contact with number 68 for two minutes,’ and that’s it.”

I still feel the optics of this are a bad look. The risk of COVID to these kids is low, and contact tracing that only tells you limited data during practice is not particularly meaningful. That said, if parents consent, then this is not controversial.

It’s sad, however, that some parents and students feel forced into this decision. If they don’t offer consent, they can’t play. That doesn’t give some students a real choice, especially if they are particularly talented at football or volleyball. Playing is one of the only ways they can earn a scholarship to play in college. Is it really consent if it feels like it’s their only option?

Did you like this opinion piece? Then listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM, HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz  on  Twitter,  Instagram, and like me on Facebook

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