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18 Aug, 2020 18:29

Leaky bubble? Michigan college puts students on campus arrest with mandatory Covid-19 tracking app, while staff get to leave

Leaky bubble? Michigan college puts students on campus arrest with mandatory Covid-19 tracking app, while staff get to leave

Michigan’s Albion College is requiring incoming students to install a tracking app on their phones that warns the school if they leave campus. The ‘Covid bubble’ plan lets teachers come and go as they please, however.

The draconian rules, which mandate that students remain within the Albion campus’ 4.5-mile perimeter throughout the entire 14-week semester, are part of Albion’s plans to create a ‘Covid bubble’ protecting its entire student body, the Washington Free Beacon reported on Monday.

While Albion claimed students are being restricted to campus in order “to reduce the risk of transmission between the campus or community populations,” the school’s ‘Covid bubble’ has one gaping flaw: faculty and administrators can come and go as they please.

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Attempting to explain the disparity, the school pointed out it lacks the ability to house all faculty and staff on campus and insisted they would take “extra precautions to limit their exposure on and off campus” and undergo frequent testing. That’s cold comfort to students who might gladly give up their on-campus berth for a little freedom of movement.

The rules require students to submit to a three-day quarantine upon moving in and agree to be tested for the coronavirus at various intervals – test results which can then be shared with state, local, or “any other governmental entity as may be required by law,” according to Albion’s policy. However, the school insisted state and county officials weren’t collecting information from the app… yet.

Students are limited to a list of “approved businesses” they may patronize, and those who absolutely must leave campus are required to give five days’ notice before doing so. “Approved” reasons for leaving include medical appointments, religious obligations, and “significant family obligations” (though it’s not clear what rises to the level of ‘significant’).

Unlike many US colleges, Albion is not allowing remote learning for the fall semester, and those who disobey the new rules risk being locked out of their dorms and other campus buildings, or being suspended. The school has hastened to assure parents their children will not be expelled. 

Called Aura, the app’s website boasts that it is “ensuring a safe, compliant workforce through Covid-19 testing, prevention and mitigation,” and its functions apparently include “prevent[ing] access to facilities based on a positive Covid-19 test result.” Parent company Genetworx seems to be playing on schools’ fears of the ‘college bubble’ bursting, claiming that all a university has to do to ensure students and parents continue to pay exorbitant tuition and fees is adopt its coronavirus testing-and-tracing program.

However, students aren’t exactly thrilled about being confined to school grounds for months at a time, or having their comings and goings subject to administrative scrutiny. Albion senior Andrew Arszulowicz told the Beacon the mandatory installation of Aura contradicted statewide mask mandates, arguing that “if the school believes masks work… why are we not allowed to leave [campus]?

I feel like I am being treated like a five-year-old that cannot be trusted to follow rules.

Their parents aren’t pleased, either. One father told the Beacon he had “a ton of concern” with his daughter being made to “sign a form consenting to specimen collection and lab testing,” pointing out that the state was already contact-tracing residents who tested positive for Covid-19. “Why is the state of Michigan’s contact tracing not enough?” he asked.

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Albion is hardly the first school to embrace tech-enabled totalitarianism in the name of student safety. The University of Southern California, Emory University, and the University of Texas Health Science Center were reportedly working on a mobile app that tracks location and Covid-19 symptoms in real time back in May, with the aim of assigning “risk scores” not only to individuals, but to locations they visit. It’s not clear if that project was ever completed, though, and many schools have instead opted for low-tech surveillance methods.

Some colleges are requiring students living on campus to sign “social contracts” pledging not to party, have guests stay the night in their dorms, walk around without masks on, or otherwise behave like college students – and agreeing to rat out their peers who do these things. Harassment hotlines have been repurposed as coronavirus tip lines, where students can report those who refuse to wear masks, social distance, or otherwise adopt the “new normal.

New York University told its students to personally request that the noncompliant “mask up” and social distance, then report them if they failed to obey, while Tulane University urged students to “hold your friends and peers accountable” for daring to party during the pandemic, warning them they could be expelled if they hosted parties with more than 15 people. Miami University is recruiting student “health ambassadors” trained to model “healthy behavior” and “hold accountable” those students, faculty and staff who refuse to follow it. Like many of these schools, Albion is also training some 60 student contact tracers.

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