Is my child’s GPS unit allowed in school?

Question: I have a 5 year old ASD child that also has Apraxia of Speech (non verbal). He started Kindergarten this year and within the month he has been “lost” within the bus system. Since this has happened I have activated a GPS device for special needs children (which I pay a monthly fee for). This device is kept in his backpack. The principal called me today to ask about it. I told her about the bus issues (which she had no idea about). She went on to ask about the listening in feature. I told her I am not using that feature but it is there if I want to use it. She indicated that the staff talks regularly about the children in the coat room where the backpack is. She did not want personal information about another child overheard. My question is, first, they can or can not tell me my child is allowed or not allowed to have a tracking device?

Second, HIPPA law does not apply to public schools, correct? Not sure what they would be talking about that would be so private. What do I have to do to protect my child? I need help.

Answer provided by Barb Brish, AAoM’s Education Specialist

Given that your child wanders, the GPS unit could be considered an accommodation as a safety feature for the child.  That would be written into the student’s IEP.  We are assuming that you would provide the school access to the locator function of the GPS unit if they needed it and to serve the purpose of the accommodation request.  If denied, parents can file an Office of Civil Rights Complaint online with the Office of Civil Rights.

HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) does not apply to schools, they are governed by FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act).  The listen in feature cannot be turned on by a minor child or remotely by a parent/third party.
A possible compromise would be to acquire a device that does not have the listen in feature.  In some cases schools have purchased GPS devices for students who wander.  The device would belong to the school technically, but if it is a need to ensure the student’s safety it could be included in the IEP.