A software developer with a personal connection to Barrington Unit District 220 is hoping a new smartphone app he's created will help protect students in the district from the threat of stranger danger.
But while district officials recognize a potential benefit from the LifeLine Response app, they're undecided whether and how to proceed as the middle man for a private firm.
"Where do you draw the line?" board President Brian Battle asked in imagining other companies being encouraged to follow such a precedent.
Superintendent Tom Leonard, who was contacted by the software developer, said he'd be more comfortable proceeding only after the board issued a formal request for proposals in the community to create a more competitive process.
"I recognized there was a potential value," Leonard said of the app. "At the same time, I recognized that it was moving us to a place we haven't been before."
On Monday, Leonard demonstrated for school board members a prototype of the app, which can be used in either of two ways.
A person who feels threatened can set the app to stay dormant only if his or her thumb is kept pressed on the phone. If the phone is released for 20 seconds, an alert -- including the phone's location -- would be sent to local police and close acquaintances.
The app also can be set to send an alert if the time taken to complete a familiar task -- like walking home from school -- is exceeded.
Leonard admitted to school board members that in a previous demonstration he'd mistakenly kept his thumb off the phone too long and sent the alert to his panicked sister.
Board member Sandra Bradford asked whether local police might constantly be running after false alerts from students if one of the district's administrators could make such a mistake.
While the district isn't being asked to purchase anything, it is being asked to pass along the LifeLine information to parents. The developer is offering students free service for a year. After that, there would be a charge of $9 per year per student, Leonard said.
Although Leonard said he finds some aspects of the proposed marketing arrangement uncomfortable, he thinks it is a matter the school board should consider.
"It's hard for me to walk away from something like this with some of the strange things that have happened," he said, noting occasional incidents over the years in which students have been followed by strangers after school.
Board members agreed to think about the proposal and possibly take action, or seek further information about it, at their next meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 19.
Even if the idea is pursued, the district would be as hands-off about the marketing of the app as possible, Leonard said.
"What we would probably do is some kind of email communication describing it with a link to where they can go," he explained.
Leonard said a lawyer confirmed the district would not be liable in case of any malfunction of the app.