A Michigan college is requiring students to download a phone application that tracks their location and private health data at all times in an attempt to protect them from the coronavirus.
Albion College, located in Albion, Mich., is one of the first schools in the country to tackle contact tracing. The school is working to create a "COVID-bubble" on campus, and asking students stay within the school's 4.5-mile perimeter for the entire semester; if a student leaves campus, the app will notify the administration, and the student could be temporarily suspended.
The move comes as universities grapple with how to reopen safely amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Several schools including Harvard University have shut down their campuses entirely, while the University of California system will provide the majority of classes online with a selection of hybrid options. Other schools, such as Boston University, are resuming in-person learning with masks and social distancing guidelines alongside virtual learning supplements for those who don't feel comfortable returning.
Albion’s reopening plan has sparked blowback from students and parents who are expressing concern about what they view as an invasion of privacy. A father of an Albion student said that he is upset that he must choose between keeping his daughter home from school or signing off on a university-sanctioned "invasion of privacy."
"The school wants my daughter to sign a form consenting to specimen collection and lab testing," he told the Washington Free Beacon on condition of anonymity. "I have a ton of concern with that…. Why is the state of Michigan's contact tracing not enough?"
Though students are required to remain on campus, professors and administrators are not. When asked about this potential loophole in its "COVID-bubble," the school declined to comment.
Rising senior Andrew Arszulowicz said that he is upset with both the mandatory use of the app and the manner in which students are being treated. "I feel like I am being treated like a five-year-old that cannot be trusted to follow rules," Arszulowicz told the Free Beacon. "If the school believes masks work … why are we not allowed to leave if they work? It does not make sense to me."
Albion is planning to offer in-person learning only, and students who refuse to comply with the contact-tracing program will be forced to defer for a semester or a full school year.
Coronavirus testing will be required upon arrival to campus. It's unclear how many follow-up tests the university will mandate throughout the 14-week semester, but the results be stored on Albion's tracking app.
Returning students must also sign a form authorizing the disclosure of their test results to the county, state, or "any other governmental entity as may be required by law"—though the school told the Free Beacon that state and county officials are not collecting information from the app.
In addition to downloading the app, students must undergo a mandatory three-day quarantine after they move back to campus. They will be given a list of "approved businesses" to frequent, and must fill out an online form five days in advance if they plan to leave for "approved" activities, such as medical appointments, religious obligations, and "significant family obligations."
According to emails from the university obtained by the Free Beacon, students who fail to comply with these guidelines will be locked out of their dorms and other on-campus buildings. Students can be temporarily suspended if they fail to comply with protocol.