Parkway School District administrators have changed course and now plan to go ahead with district-wide implementation of a Polar active monitor program this spring.
Officials in the district recently said they would postpone expanding the program beyond the pilot phase until next school year. They were concerned that inaccurate media reports caused public confusion about the nature of the devices and the intent of their use.
"Inaccurate information about the devices went out on Fox News, the New York Daily News, the London Daily Mail and others outside the area, implying incorrectly that GPS capability was included and kids were being tracked for insurance purposes, just crazy, crazy stuff," said Cathy Kelly, a district spokesperson.
The Polar active monitors are wristwatch-like devices that detect body movement by the person wearing them. An animated figure on the monitor indicates the activity level. A bar shows the target time for doing moderate to vigorous activity and the amount of time achieved at that level.
The district started a pilot project in April during which it had students wear the monitors during physical education classes at Henry and Ross elementary schools. Shenandoah Valley Elementary School in Chesterfield joined the pilot in August.
The district has purchased 400 monitors at $90 apiece and plans to have fourth- and fifth-graders wear them in PE classes at all 18 Parkway elementary schools. District officials have said the devices should help improve the students' fitness and academic achievement.
Original plans were to have fourth- and fifth-grade students begin wearing them round the clock for a week at a time before the end of this school year.
However, some parents and legal experts raised privacy concerns about at least that aspect of the program. The district now plans to wait at least a couple of years before having the students wear the devices round the clock and at home.
"District administrative staff anticipate all elementary schools will begin using the Polar active monitors sometime this spring," Kelly said. "The implementation at all elementary schools had been put on hold due to media reports, most of which were inaccurate. But we want to educate parents about the product and we're in the process of developing a parent consent form."
She said communication with parents to provide more information on the project will likely be in the form of a letter and principal's newsletters sent home.
"In the pilot project, kids and any parents who knew about the monitors were excited about them," Kelly said. "Since we are first using these only as a tool in PE, we hadn't felt there was a need to notify parents at this stage but later, when they went home.
"Though we don't feel that our notification schedule was a mistake, hindsight's 20-20, and, if we had notified parents, we wouldn't have had this spiral of inaccurate media reports that got out of control."
The district didn't find anything inaccurate with a recent Journal article, Kelly said. The district hasn't had negative feedback from parents, she said.
Parkway anticipates three phases of Polar active monitor use, she said.
"First, they'll just be used in PE, then at some point down the road, kids will wear them all during the school day to determine their activity levels," Kelly said. "A couple years down the road, we wanted to send the devices home with the kids, and, at that time, we had originally planned on communication with parents because the kids would be taking the devices home."