Are AngelSense or other GPS devices legal in schools? The devil is in the details.

A new GPS-based technology appears to answer parents’ fears about their children’s safety while at school.  One such device, AngelSense allows GPS tracking, ensuring parents that they will know where their child is, know their child is well and know when their child has arrived home.  The device also contains a “Listen-In” feature which permits parents to monitor their child’s interactions at school.  According to the company, the device itself does not record; however, school officials do not have control over the transmission of the audio to another recording device.  The device also has an “AngelCall” feature where a parent can talk to their child at any time.  Often parents seek to use these devices as a surveillance tool over concerns of bullying or student/teacher interactions.  One can see how these devices potentially offer parents peace of mind.

However, use of the device in school settings is not without the absence of worry.  The AngelSense device and other similar devices present legal issues for school districts.  Pennsylvania’s Wiretap Act forbids the “interception” of private conversations using an “electronic, mechanical, or other device,” unless all of the participants consent to that recording.  Without such consent, the recording of an otherwise private conversation constitutes illegal interception of a conversation, which is a felony criminal offense.  Pennsylvania is a “two-party consent” state which makes it a crime to intercept or record a telephone call or conversation unless all parties to the conversation consent.  Care must be taken before recording a private conversation in Pennsylvania.  The Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act makes it a third degree felony for any person to willfully intercept, or try to intercept, “any wire or oral communication.”  18 Pa.C.S. § 5703(1). Without explicit consent from the participants, such recording is illegal.  This is true whether the conversation is captured on surveillance video, a tape recorder, a smartphone app or a GPS tracking device.

In addition to concerns with illegal recordings, the device presents concerns with student privacy.  We strongly recommend when approached by a parent for permission to use a GPS tracking device in school, that the District establish acceptable parameters for such use.  The problematic features of the device can be restricted during school hours and/or completely removed from the device service plan.  Additionally, the AngelSense device can be set up to add school officials to the notification system for when the device “Listen In” feature is on and in use.  To achieve that end, the primary guardian is asked to add one or more school officials “school guardians” to the account.  The school guardian will then be able to login to the app using their own credentials and gain access to the School Dashboard.

The school team to include building level administration, the special education department and transportation officials should seek to work cooperatively with parents in establishing appropriate use of the GPS device in the school setting.  These discussions should be part of the IEP or 504 team discussions.  Additionally, the team should consider entering into a User Agreement between the school district and parent/guardian.

Our Education Law team is prepared to offer assistance on the use of these devices.  If you have any questions or would like further clarification, please contact us at 412-24-4400.