Concerns about habitually truant students have caused some schools to issue GPS tracking devices to some of their students. The program, which is being tried in schools both in California and Texas, hopes to encourage students to attend school regularly to gain full benefit from the education available to them.
Students who chronically skip class are given the opportunity to participate in the tracking program. If they and their parents agree, they are issued a small GPS device, about the size of a cell phone. They are required to check in five times a day — when they leave the house in the morning, when they arrive at school, at lunchtime, when they leave school at the end of the day, and at eight o’clock in the evening. The device registers their location at the time of these check-ins to verify that their position is as they are reporting. It can also detect if the tracker has been given to a different student than the one to whom it is assigned. Some programs also offer wake up calls to get the student out of bed in the morning. They are also paired with a coach who contacts them on a regular basis and encourages them to stay in school.
These GPS trackers can have several positive results. For many students, just the discipline of checking in and knowing that they are carrying the device gives them the accountability they need to attend school regularly. Others need the knowledge of the consequences that come with continued skipping — likely juvenile court prosecution for truancy for the student and fines for the parents. If the program succeeds in its goal to encourage students to attend class, however, they receive a better education and are less likely to become involved in gangs and illegal activity. Some school districts are able to offset the cost of the devices using grants. In other districts, the devices pay for themselves since the schools receive funding based on the number of students attending and increased attendance brings more funds. At least one school has seen an increase in student attendance from 78% to 90%.
Although some have raised concerns that these programs are invasive and violate student privacy, the concept seems to be well received in the districts that have attempted it. It is likely that GPS trackers will become a more common method of discouraging student truancy in the future.