As part of a controversial trial that could someday include 112 schools and nearly 100,000 students, Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas, recently issued students at two of its campuses new badges with an embedded RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip in order to track their locations.
Unlike passive chips that transmit data only when scanned by a reader, these chips have batteries and broadcast a constant signal so they can track students' exact locations on school property, down to where they're sitting--whether it's at a desk, in a counselor's office, or on the toilet.
The program went live on October 1 at John Jay High School and Anson Jones Middle School where students now must wear the new badges in a lanyard around their necks. Without the badge, a student can't access the library and cafeteria, or buy tickets to extracurricular activities. The school district has threatened to suspend, fine or involuntarily transfer students who refuse to wear them.
Some of the students are challenging the district's order.
Andrea Hernandez says she has religious and privacy concerns and has refused to wear the tracking badge.
"She said that since the policy went into effect several students have engaged in civil disobedience by leaving their badges at home. However, Hernandez has been wearing her old badge to school in an attempt to have some form of ID," reports WND. Without the high-tech version, however, Hernandez was not allowed to vote for homecoming king and queen.
Behind the tracking
One reason the school district decided to try the tracking badges was to get state funding. "Because budgets are tied to average daily attendance, schools lose cash--as much as $175,000 a day--if students aren't in their seats when homerooms do roll call in the morning. However, if the student is on campus, they're technically present," states the website ChipFreeSchools.com.
The two schools have a high truancy rate and the district hopes to garner an extra $2 million in funding by cracking down on errant kids.
One has to assume the schools are interested in actually educating the students, and there's no doubt that education will be more effective if more students are attending class. In addition, if state fiscal support remains high, the district certainly have more resources with which to educate students more effectively. And the Northside website that provides information about the "'Smart' Student ID Cards project" makes a reasonable point. "Our students' parents expect that we always know where their children are in our schools," it says.
First and Fourth Amendment issues
Yet people continue to voice privacy and legal concerns.
In August, several privacy advocacy groups put out a position paper (PDF) which argues that RFID tracking in schools violates students' rights to free speech and association because the technology tracks not only an individual's location, but it can monitor which people congregate together.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.