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College Athletes Returning to Campus with Temp Checks and Contact-Tracing

By Samantha Cleaver

When student athletes at the University of Louisville returned to campus the first week of June, they were met with drive-up coronavirus testing at the campus stadium.

Besides testing, the University of Louisville campus had put other protections in place, such as allowing only small groups of athletes to return, opening training sites with limited occupancy and encouraging social-distancing and wearing masks.

So far, the athletic department at Louisville has not provided any results from the testing they’ve done, Kenny Klein, senior associate athletic director, told Digital Privacy News.

The sample size has been small, and because so few students were on campus, individuals could be identified through reporting.

As student athletes continue to return to colleges, they are the first wave of university students to experience COVID-19 testing, and the privacy measures that come with it.

Their experience likely will frame how the fall shapes up for all students, said Amelia Vance, Future of Privacy Forum director of youth and education privacy.

“Schools are trying to make an argument that they are safe,” Vance said, so “having students potentially test positive for the virus does not bode well for the chances of reopening campus.”

Monitoring student athletes for COVID raises questions about what information can be disclosed, and how new methods of monitoring incorporate student privacy measures.

FERPA and COVID Testing

When it comes to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), athletes are in a unique situation because they are students, so they have the same protections as any other student.

However, they also play a more public role in the university.

“In terms of virus-testing, it’s going to be an issue for the institution and the student to work out,” LeRoy Rooker, senior fellow with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, told Digital Privacy News.

A test conducted on campus would become part of the student’s educational record, which is protected by FERPA.

These records, Rooker said, can be shared within the university because of the legitimate educational reasons for sharing them. The results from the tests also can be shared in a general manner, without any information that would identify the student.

“In terms of virus-testing, it’s going to be an issue for the institution and the student to work out.”

LeRoy Rooker, American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Currently, “there are a lot of schools doing the right thing,” Vance said. “Providing general information that isn’t specific to any one student.”

Further, because the White House has designated COVID-19 a public-health emergency, information about student athlete coronavirus results could be shared with public-health agencies under the FERPA health and safety emergency provision.

Schools have an obligation, said Vance, to share information with the public, as they determine what to do in the fall.

Monitoring, Tracking 

As student athletes return to the University of Florida in Gainesville, students will have masks and additional cleaning.

They also will have daily temperature screening and complete daily health questionnaires.

At the University of South Carolina, student athletes will have a temperature check and complete a checklist of symptoms each time they enter the football stadium.

The University of Utah is implementing check-ins and an electronic survey to monitor students phasing back into voluntary workouts.

The information Utah is collecting, including where students have visited on campus and health information, is being kept within its own data set, not in an athlete’s record, and will be used to monitor COVID-19 cases and to help with contact-tracing, a university spokesperson told Digital Privacy News.

Tracking student athlete health data is not new, Vance said, but within this context, it may become something that expands to all students.

“You have this massive intake of additional data on athletes,” she said, “and a lot of the reopening plans also hinge on a lot of the data-collection and tracking being required for any students who might start in the fall.”

Sensitive Medical Concerns

As student health data is collected, sensitive medical issues could arise that are unrelated to COVID-19.

For example, having a higher temperature, may indicate a virus; it also may indicate that you are a female athlete, that you may be pregnant or that you may have an STD.

Also a concern: Data that is collected through thermal scanning or wearable devices, like FitBits, which isn’t explicitly covered by HIPPA or FERPA.

Both HIPPA and FERPA were written before thermal scanning or wearable devices, Vance told Digital Privacy News.

Students may think twice about disclosing this information unless colleges have a clear, detailed policy for how to protect it, she said, which includes how and when it will be shared and deleted after the pandemic is over.

If data collection and management is not thought through or concerns about how information could be used, it could become part of a student’s record and have unintended consequences, Vance said.

Re-Examining Programs

Some colleges are opting out of fall sports entirely because of the precautions and costs related to COVID testing.

Seven Division II and III schools have cancelled fall sports, citing both the cost to test players regularly, according to news reports, and the reality of college life — which makes it difficult to keep students separated from the rest of campus.

“Having students potentially test positive for the virus does not bode well for the chances of reopening campus.”

Amelia Vance, Future of Privacy Forum.

Ivy League sports also were placed on hold, because officials expressed concerns about their ability to maintain acceptable safety and risk levels for athletes.

For sports or in general, data-sharing and technology are necessary during a health crisis, Vance told Digital Privacy News.

As schools figure out how to reopen without students getting sick, she added, many potential violations of privacy could occur if schools do not plan for how to manage, store and share this information.

Samantha Cleaver is an education writer in Charlotte, N.C.

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