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Family Of Child With Autism Battling School Over GPS Device

ARLINGTON (CBS 11 NEWS) - An Arlington family says the school district will not allow a six-year-old with autism to take a life-saving device to school.  The battle began back in February.  The CBS 11 I-Team got involved this week.  The little girl heads back to school in one week.  A national autism organization and a local lawmaker are also involved.

Coral loves to paint, play, and learn like most six-year-olds.   She also likes to wander like most children with autism.

"When Coral is outside she runs," says her grandmother Carol Christian.

Coral rode the bus to Pope Elementary last year and her grandmother worried that she would wander from school.  So, the family bought her a GPS tracking device.

"The tracker simply tracks where Coral is at every five minutes throughout the day."

Christian says the tracker alerts the family if Coral goes outside of a specific zone.  The remote stayed in coral's backpack until March.

"All of a sudden we get an email at home telling us they had removed the GPS tracker from her backpack…that it was against district policy," explained Christian.

For months, Coral's family fought the district.

"They know it's not against the law and now they are ignoring us," said Christian.

Christian turned to the National Autism Association for support.  A spokesperson told CBS 11 this is "unacceptable." "Wandering is very common...with autism. This is the first time we've heard of a school district...denying access to a potentially life-saving device."  The association says since April, 14 children with autism have died following a wandering accident.

Christian: "Kids get away from schools all the time."

CBS 11's Ginger Allen: "You believe this is the difference to life or death in your granddaughter?" 

Christian: "Yes I do."

Christian even turned to Senator Wendy Davis, who also reached out the Arlington school district.  But still no resolution.  Senator Davis released this statement about the situation:

"I hope that everyone involved in this case can come together to accommodate the special needs of children with autism.  I am glad that my office was able to help facilitate discussion between the family and the school and will continue to monitor their progress."

CBS 11 visited Arlington ISD and was told "the device is not being allowed because of that remote listening ability."   The GPS tracker allows an outside user to push a button and unknowingly listen to the holder of the remote.  Communications Director Leslie Johnston says that is against school policy because that means outsiders could be recording what is happening inside the classroom.  Guidelines say you need a teacher's permission to record.  The district does encourage other technology, including iPhones, computers and iPads, which it firmly believes is different.

"The phones used under BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) are being used with a teacher permission and teacher supervision, so you know what is being recorded if that is being allowed by the teacher," said Johnston.

CBS 11's Ginger Allen: "Right now anyone could be recording us on a iPhone and you wouldn't know it?"

Johnston: "I should know it and the teacher should know what is going on."

The district says it cannot risk the privacy concerns of other students.  They say they are now working with district attorneys and the family to try to find another solution or tracking device.

Coral's family says they still waiting to hear from the district.

Update:  The school district has offered to provide Coral with a different tracking device without the remote listening/recording feature.  But Coral's family is not satisfied with that device because it does not have the same features as the device they have.  They plan to send Coral to school on Monday with the original device.

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