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A public school in Washington state requires student athletes participating in high-contact or moderate-contact indoor sports to wear proximity monitors to help the school with COVID-19 social distancing and contact tracing.
The requirement applies to vaccinated and unvaccinated students and staff while they are participating in the sport.
The devices track proximity, not location, and monitor whether and for how long people wearing the devices are near one another.
The start of the school year has been engulfed in controversy around COVID-19 safety measures, such as mask requirements for students and vaccination mandates for staff. At one Washington state high school, safety measures for student athletes have become fodder for viral social media posts.
On Aug. 24, a Facebook page called "Hold the Line" shared a screenshot of a headline claiming that unvaccinated student athletes at Eatonville High School, about 50 miles south of Seattle, were made to wear proximity monitors.
The headline read: "EXCLUSIVE: Washington public school forces unvaccinated teens to wear ankle monitors," and continues, "A 15-year-old girl was allegedly forced to wear an ankle tracking monitor for volleyball practice at Eatonville High School in Washington state as a condition of participating in team sports."
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
The school is using proximity monitors for student athletes as a COVID-19 precaution, but the headline spotlighted in the post, with references to "unvaccinated teens" being "allegedly forced," leaves out some important context: The requirement applies to students and staff — whether or not they’re vaccinated — and only while they’re participating in the sport.
The article that appeared with the headline, published by the conservative Canadian publication Post Millennial, has also been picked up by several other online news outlets, and has led some users to compare the devices to ankle monitors designed for people who are incarcerated or on parole.
The Post Millennial article claimed that a 15-year-old girl was told by her coach to put on an ankle tracking monitor for volleyball practice as part of a program designed for efficient contact tracing to prevent COVID-19 spread.
According to Post Millennial, the device — called TraceTag — would be used to maintain social distancing guidelines by notifying wearers when they are too close to someone else and passively collecting interaction records for contact tracing should someone test positive for COVID-19 later on.
The article’s headline was later changed to "EXCLUSIVE: Washington public school forces student athletes to wear ankle monitors for purposes of COVID segregation: parents."
PolitiFact was not able to identify the student mentioned in the article, but a press release from Eatonville School District clarified the policy: Proximity monitors are being used for "high contact and moderate indoor contact sports."
"The proximity monitor contains radio-based sensors that track distance between individuals wearing the device, as well as length of time spent in proximity to one another," a school athletics FAQ webpage explained.
The monitors were purchased with grants to support athletic programs.
Administrators and coaches invited parents to a meeting and gave them a consent form prior to the start of the fall athletics season, but the school also suggested that "numerous changes" to the system can be expected throughout the year. The school’s fall athletics season began on Aug. 23.
The FAQ page said the school decided to use proximity monitors to keep track of contacts so that athletes and coaches would not have to quarantine unnecessarily.
"If a student or coach tests positive, we will have immediate information regarding athletes’ and coaches’ contacts, so we can more tightly determine who might need to quarantine," Gary Neal, the superintendent of Eatonville School District, explained.
The TraceTag device, made by the workplace technology firm Triax, is not a location tracker like the kind used in corrections settings.
The small device, which can be clipped to a hat or strapped to the body, has two functions: It emits an audible alert when people are within six feet apart, and records that information passively. That data, which can be anonymized, can subsequently be connected to a dashboard for an administrator to review.
TraceTag doesn’t track location or movements, the company explained, but rather records interactions between two like devices.
A headline shared on Facebook says a high school in Washington state is forcing unvaccinated student athletes to wear ankle monitors to play indoor sports.
The school is making staff and students, whether or not they are vaccinated, wear proximity monitoring devices while they are participating in high to moderate-contact indoor sports, as a COVID-19 safety measure to aid social distancing and contact tracing. The devices do not track location.
The headline leaves out key context from the article, and leaves the impression that the requirement applies only to unvaccinated students. We rate this claim Half True.
Facebook post, Aug. 23, 2021
Post Millennial, "EXCLUSIVE: Washington public school forces student athletes to wear ankle monitors for purposes of COVID segregation: parents," August 23, 2021
Eatonville School District Communications Statement, Aug. 24, 2021
Eatonville High School Athletics FAQ page, Aug. 23, 2021
Phone interview, Triax Director of Marketing, Aug. 24, 2021
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