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A Tool That Monitors How Long Kids Are in the Bathroom Is Now in 1,000 American Schools

e-HallPass, a digital system that students have to use to request to leave their classroom and which takes note of how long they’ve been away, including to visit the bathroom, has spread into at least a thousand schools around the United States.

The system has some resemblance to the sort of worker monitoring carried out by Amazon, which tracks how long its staff go to the toilet for, and is used to penalize workers for “time off task.” It also highlights how automated tools have led to increased surveillance of students in schools, and employees in places of work.

“This product is just the latest in a growing number of student surveillance tools—designed to allow school administrators to monitor and control student behavior at scale, on and off campus,” Doug Levin, co-founder and national director for the K12 Security Information eXchange, a non-profit focused on cybersecurity for schools, told Motherboard. “While the problems they purport to solve are real, they also introduce other risks to students—including the risks of spurious accusations and targeted harassment by school officials and law enforcement. 

Do you know anything else about e-HallPass? We’d love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Joseph Cox securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, Wickr on josephcox, or email joseph.cox@vice.com.

Levin further noted that the increased scrutiny offered by surveillance tools “has been shown to be disproportionately targeted against minorities, recent immigrants, LGBTQ kids,” and other marginalized groups.

On Monday, a since deleted tweet went viral in which someone claimed that their school was preparing to introduce e-HallPass, and described it as “the program where we track how long, at what time, and how often each child goes to the restroom and store that information on third party servers run by a private for-profit company.”

Motherboard then identified multiple schools across the U.S. that appear to use the technology by searching the web for instruction manuals, announcements, and similar documents from schools that mentioned the technology. Those results included K-12 schools such as Franklin Regional Middle School, Fargo Public Schools, River City High School, Loyalsock Township School District, and Cabarrus County Schools. Also schools Motherboard found that appear to use e-HallPass include Mehlville High School, Eagle County School District, Hopatcong Borough Schools, and Pope Francis Preparatory School. These schools are spread across the country, with some in California, New York, Virginia, and North Carolina.

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Eduspire, the company that makes e-HallPass, told trade publication EdSurge in March that 1,000 schools use the system. Brian Tvenstrup, president of Eduspire, told the outlet that the company’s biggest obstacle to selling the product “is when a school isn’t culturally ready to make these kinds of changes yet.”

The system itself works as a piece of software installed on a computer or mobile device. Students request a pass through the software and the teacher then approves it. The tool promises “hall omniscience” with the ability to “always know who has a pass and who doesn’t (without asking the student!),” according to the product’s website. 

Admins can then access data collected through the software, and view a live dashboard showing details on all passes. e-HallPass can also stop meet-ups of certain students and limit the amount of passes going to certain locations, the website adds, explicitly mentioning  “vandalism and TikTok challenges.” Many of the schools Motherboard identified appear to use e-HallPass specifically on Chromebooks, according to student user guides and similar documents hosted on the schools’ websites, though it also advertises that it can be used to track students on their personal cell phones

EdSurge reported that some people had taken to Change.org with a petition to remove the “creepy” system from a specific school. Motherboard found over a dozen similar petitions online, including one regarding Independence High School signed nearly 700 times which appears to have been written by a group of students.

“We are expected to be young adults and by this E-HP system taking place this year we have a great amount of freedom and independence being taken away,” the petition reads. “Many students that attend Indy have come together and decided to petition against this new system that has been created. We, as the students feel as if we’re being watched and monitored at all times throughout our school day, which is extremely uncomfortable.”

Eduspire did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Every dollar spent on these solutions is a dollar less that can be spent on hiring school counselors and teachers,” said Levin “Ultimately, the choice schools are facing is about the type of community they are seeking to foster: one focused on defending and punishing vs. one focused on supporting and uplifting. By its very nature, increased digital student surveillance leads to the former.”

He added that “The real issue/risks here, I think, are not so much broad cybersecurity risk but are ethical: about the type of environment schools are creating and whether it is humane and just.”

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