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Contact tracing device plans at Maui school spur protests

Students will have to wear lanyards that have COVID-19 exposure alerts

Parents of Kamehameha Schools Maui students are protesting the school’s plans to use wearable devices that will alert users about possible COVID-19 exposure. Kamehameha Schools said the data will decrease the amount of time it takes to do manual contact tracing and help prevent larger outbreaks. — KIM CASTILLON photo

Saying the move came without consent, some Maui parents are opposing a plan by Kamehameha Schools to make students wear tech devices that will alert users of possible COVID-19 exposure.

“The fact that they’re tracking the kids and the way they’re doing it, it’s just not right,” said Kim Castillon, whose four children attended Kamehameha Schools Maui.

A few dozen people protesting the device and other COVID-19 measures at the private school rallied Monday at the Maui campus. Another such rally is planned for 6:45 a.m. Monday near the Kulamalu parking lot.

The wearable device produced by SaferMe comes in the form of a card attached to a lanyard that should be worn unobstructed around the neck. Using Bluetooth technology to record when it comes close to another user, the cards do not track locations or personal information and are not equipped with GPS, according to a school email to parents.

The data system will decrease the amount of time it takes to do manual contact tracing and increase the accuracy of close contact information gathered, all of which can help prevent larger outbreaks, according to the Kamehameha Schools Kapalama website.

When asked if the device is being used at other schools in Hawaii, Darren Pai, Kamehameha Schools strategic communications director, said that it is but declined to provide examples.

“We are aware of other schools,” he said Friday. “It’s not appropriate to identify them.”

The state Department of Education has not announced plans to implement devices, nor have many private schools on Maui.

Sienna Yoshida, whose children attend Kamehameha Schools Maui, said on Friday that the move is “bizarre” and a “complete overreach.”

“I can understand them wanting to be a leader in a lot of things, but this technology, with this objective, is not — I don’t even think it’s pono. It doesn’t feel good.”

Yoshida said she doesn’t need a Bluetooth tracker to tell her when her child has been in close contact with anyone.

“I’m going to rely on his or her good old immune system to tell me that they’re sick,” she said.

“The kicker is that we do not have to consent to this,” Yoshida added. “They said we have signed off in our earlier waivers and things to enter school.”

Another parent of a student at Kamehameha Schools Maui, who asked to remain anonymous because her health care job could be impacted if she speaks out against COVID-19 measures, said that the device compromises privacy and freedom.

“What we’re doing in the name of health starts these very questionable practices and it becomes a gateway to things that then later can become very detrimental to our privacy and our freedom,” she said. “That’s my concern. We’re doing this in the name of health, but what’s next? This could pave the road that is maybe not in our best interest or our kids’ best interest.”

Castillon, who worked at Kamehameha Schools Maui until 2007, said that parents haven’t had a chance to discuss this devices before the decision to implement them.

She encouraged concerned parents to speak out.

“They need to make noise. They need get their attention,” Castillon said. “I think that’s what the rally has done. Security came and tried to stop us. The police came. Somebody that works there was trying to calm everyone down and move us away. They don’t like the attention.”

In response to the rally, Pai said that the school system values the voices of its community.

“KS values the voices of our haumana and ‘ohana, and we thank them for sharing their mana’o,” he said. “Out of an abundance of caution, Maui Police were on the scene to ensure the safety of everyone present during the busy morning drop-off period.”

Kamehameha Schools is planning to implement the SaferMe wearable device cards in a phased approach, with Maui’s campus slated for a third quarter rollout, according to a school email.

Pai said that the device rollout at other campuses has just started and school officials are receiving questions about how the technology works and how it will be implemented.

“We want to listen to families and help them understand how SaferMe will help keep our campuses safe and our haumana healthy,” he said.

All students and staff, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to wear the SaferMe device card as part of in-person learning. Wearing the SaferMe contact tracing card is a part of the mandatory uniform for school attendance. Any disciplinary action for not wearing the lanyard will be consistent with procedures for a student not in uniform, according to the Kamehameha Schools Kapalama website.

“The system works best when everyone in our school community participates,” Pai said.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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