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Should Schools Track Truant Kids By GPS?

If Ferris Bueller was a modern student living in Anaheim, California, Principal Rooney could just track him down by GPS.

Ferris Bueller would have had a hard time in Anaheim, California. The city's school district has teamed up with local police for the ultimate Big-Brother-is-watching-you solution to truancy. They've embarked on a six-week pilot program where 75 students with four or more unexcused absences are carrying a handheld GPS tracking device.

Every morning the teens get a robocall reminding them to get to school on time. After that, they're required to pull out their GPS device five times a day and "enter a code that tracks their locations—as they leave for school, when they arrive at school, at lunchtime, when they leave school and at 8 p.m." The kids also get a coach that calls them at least three times a week to help them strategize how to get to class.

Although the kids participating in the pilot are volunteering to be monitored, since truancy is a crime, they're doing it so that they can avoid being sent to a continuation school or juvenile detention facility. Sure enough, if the teens don't check in with the GPS monitoring device, police are dispatched to track them down.

The GPS move is a sign that cash-strapped school districts are increasingly hardcore about student attendance, not only because kids can't learn if they aren't in school, but because the schools lose $35 a day per absent student. Even though the GPS devices run $300 to $400 a pop, the money a school receives from having a student in his seat covers the program's costs.

Although GPS tracking has been shown to reduce truancy in other cities, it does raise the question of whether such programs put us on the path of requiring all students to wear monitors so that their whereabouts are known. That would be pretty draconian.

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