Student suspended for refusing to wear tracking device takes school to court
SCHOOLS in the US state of Texas have started tagging students with tracking devices in a bid to reduce truancy rates.
Northside Independent School District in San Antonio began implanting Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID) chips in student identification cards at two schools last month.
The Student Locator Project will gradually be expanded to the district’s 110 other schools and, if successful, rolled out nationwide.
RFID chips have previously been used by the US Department of Agriculture to monitor livestock.
Students must wear the chip-embedded cards – known as Smart IDs – around their necks or in the form of a badge.
The badge has a bar code associated with a student’s Social Security number while the chip monitors them as they come and go from school and as they move around campus – meaning they can’t slink off after rollcall.
If successful, the device could save $175,000 lost daily to poor attendance figures, which partly determine school funding. Higher attendance rates could lead to a bonus of up to $1.7 million.
But the program has divided the community, with many voicing outrage over what they see as Big Brother-style monitoring.
This week another obstacle emerged in the form of 16-year-old Andrea Hernandez, who was suspended by John Jay High School – one of the two guinea pig schools – for refusing to wear an RFID on religious and privacy grounds.
Hernandez was told she would be expelled and transferred to another high school in the district that had not yet adopted the tags, if she refused to comply.
The teen is now taking the school to court in a bid to overturn the decision.
Hernandez is backed by civil liberties organisation The Rutherford Institute, which has accused district authorities of implementing the program purely as a money-making scheme.
“There is something fundamentally disturbing about this school district’s insistence on steamrolling students into complying with programs that have nothing whatsoever to do with academic priorities and everything to do with fattening school coffers,” Institute president John Whitehead said.
In a letter to the Hernadez family, the district said it would allow the girl to continue at the school if she wore the ID with “the battery and chip removed.”
But the girl’s father, Steve Hernandez, told local media that the offer came on the condition that he must “agree to stop criticising the program and publicly support it”.
Yesterday, a Texas judge agreed to block Hernandez’s suspension pending further court hearings next week.
Texas is not the only state trialling RFIDs – several schools in California are testing them, including a federally-funded kindergarten which started embedding RFIDs in student’s clothing in 2010.