Washington School Board Drops Ankle Monitor COVID Contact Tracing for High School Sports

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Selena watches as her father Luis (only first name was provided), two El Salvadorian migrants held by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, works on changing the battery in his ankle monitor as they are cared for in an Annunciation House facility after they were reunited on July 26, 2018 in El Paso, Texas. Eatonville High School in Seattle tried to force football and volleyball players to wear similar, non-GPS enabled bracelets to enforce social distancing and contact tracing. The program was cancelled because of parental backlash.
Selena watches as her father Luis (only first name was provided), two El Salvadorian migrants held by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, works on changing the battery in his ankle monitor as they are cared for in an Annunciation House facility after they were reunited on July 26, 2018 in El Paso, Texas. Eatonville High School in Seattle tried to force football and volleyball players to wear similar, non-GPS enabled bracelets to enforce social distancing and contact tracing. The program was cancelled because of parental backlash. (Image: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A Washington school district has dropped a controversial program that saw high school volleyball and football players being made to wear ankle monitors to enforce Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) social distancing and contact tracing after the technology was implemented without parental consent. 

On Aug. 24, The Post Millennial reported in an exclusive article that Eatonville High School in Seattle, Washington made a 15-year-old girl wear an ankle monitor as a condition of participation in the school’s volleyball program. The devices were required regardless of vaccination status.

The Post reported that the girl’s mother became aware of the development only when her daughter texted her during practice saying she was being made to affix the ankle monitor to her body.

The monitor was a TraceTag device made by the company Triax, a technology implemented primarily by construction sites and industrial plants across Canada and the United States. On the company’s website, the ankle monitor is described as having two main features:

  • “Active feedback to the worker, in the form of a visual and audible alarm, so individuals know when to adjust their current distance to a proper social distance.”
  • “Passive collection of worker interactions for contact tracing should an individual test positive.”

When the 15-year-old stopped replying to texts, the mother first attempted to call the school, but received no answer. When she drove to Eatonville High to speak to someone in person, she was told by the team’s coach and an “employee in the school office” that “there was a meeting last week discussing the ankle monitoring program for unvaccinated teens.”

In an Aug. 26 interview with Fox & Friends, the mother, Nicci Hadman, elaborated, “I dropped my daughter off at practice on Monday for volleyball. She had sent me a text saying ‘hey, mom, they’re putting an ankle monitor on me. This is really weird.’ So that is how I found out.”

The Post paraphrased the coach as telling Hadman her daughter’s ankle bracelet “would inform the players when they were too close together” and “would be used for contract tracing.” 

It was then disclosed that if there was a positive test, unvaccinated students would be quarantined for 14 days while vaccinated students would not have to quarantine at all.

Hadman was told there were opt-out forms that could have been signed at the same meeting, which the mother says she was not informed about. School staff apologized for the “slip up.”

An Aug. 25 article by Daily Dot that sought to defend Eatonville’s social distancing enforcement devices featured comments from a Board spokesperson that clarified that if students opted out, they would not be permitted to participate in team sports.

Hadman told Fox the school’s Athletic Director “tells me that he did put a tracking monitor on my child. He apologized and said he would speak to the coach that did it. It was very short and sweet. There were no answers or who was accountable for it or what repercussions there were.”

When Hadman withdrew her daughter from practice, The Post said the student was “asked by an office staff member to remove the device before she saw her mother and said that the mother could only photograph the device in Kralik’s [the coach] hand..not on the child’s ankle.”

Superintendent Gary Neal told The Post the devices were federally funded, “We received grant funding (known as ESSER III) that specifically included provisions to support higher-risk athletic programs, and we used some of those funds to pay for athletic proximity monitors.”

An Aug. 25 article on the matter by Jason Rantz, a host on the 770 KTTH Conservative Talk Radio channel, clarified the ankle monitors were paid for by the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan spending bill.

Rantz noted Eatonville tried to put a positive spin on the ankle bracelets in a statement, “This system prevents taking students out of school and athletics 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. This school year we can expect numerous changes and for situations to be dynamic.”

A parent at a Board meeting about the ankle monitors dissented from the narrative, “Whatever pretty word you want to use for it, you put an electronic device around my child’s ankle without my consent,” they said, according to an Aug. 26 follow-up article by 770 KTTH staff that noted the program had been suspended by the District due to parental backlash.

The article said school football players, who were also subjected to the ankle bracelet program, however, praised the initiative at the meeting. One player was quoted as saying, “I just think they’re a great idea, and thank you to the coaches for giving us that opportunity to wear them and let us have a season.”

In a “fact check” by USA Today, the outlet judged The Post Millennial exclusive as “missing context” because “the article gets the general idea right, it puts spin on the story that takes it out of context.” 

USA Today used the following rationale, “The ‘ankle monitors’ are proximity monitors that assisted the school with contact tracing among its high- and medium-contact sport participants.”

“They track proximity from other students, not specific location like a traditional ankle monitor, such as those worn by people released from prison. All athletes and staff, regardless of vaccination status, were directed to wear the monitors, and parents signed permission slips,” it claimed.

  • Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.