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Student RFID

I have three things to say about this.

A Texas high school student is being suspended for refusing to wear a student ID card implanted with a radio-frequency identification chip.

Northside Independent School District in San Antonio began issuing the RFID-chip-laden student-body cards when the semester began in the fall. The ID badge has a bar code associated with a student’s Social Security number, and the RFID chip monitors pupils’ movements on campus, from when they arrive until when they leave.

Radio-frequency identification devices are a daily part of the electronic age — found in passports, and library and payment cards. Eventually they’re expected to replace bar-code labels on consumer goods. Now schools across the nation are slowly adopting them as well.

The suspended student, sophomore Andrea Hernandez, was notified by the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio that she won’t be able to continue attending John Jay High School unless she wears the badge around her neck, which she has been refusing to do. The district said the girl, who objects on privacy and religious grounds, beginning Monday would have to attend another high school in the district that does not yet employ the RFID tags.

The Rutherford Institute said it would go to court and try to nullify the district’s decision. The institute said that the district’s stated purpose for the program — to enhance their coffers — is “fundamentally disturbing.”

“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,” said John Whitehead, the institute’s president.

Like most state-financed schools, the district’s budget is tied to average daily attendance. If a student is not in his seat during morning roll call, the district doesn’t receive daily funding for that pupil because the school has no way of knowing for sure if the student is there.

But with the RFID tracking, students not at their desk but tracked on campus are counted as being in school that day, and the district receives its daily allotment for that student.

1. School districts have a strong incentive to ensure that their weighted average daily attendance (WADA) figures are as high as possible because that’s how their funding is determined. This is the system that the Legislature has set up. I’m not an expert in these matters so I can’t say whether this is the best way to dole out funds to schools and school districts or not, but it’s what we’ve got whether you like it or not, and especially in the current climate of budget cuts and funding levels being frozen since 2006, I hardly see how you can blame NISD for trying to ensure it’s getting all the resources it’s owed. I strongly object to the Rutherford Institute’s classification of this as NISD “enhancing its coffers”, as if there’s a CEO behind the scenes seeking to maximize his profits. The money NISD would lose out on for undercounting their attendance hurts their students; getting all the resources they are owed helps them. One can make the case that they’re simply fulfilling their fiduciary responsibility to local taxpayers, since funds they forfeit by not getting an accurate count of their WADA may need to be recouped by an increase in property taxes. If you don’t like the system, blame the Legislature for it, as only they can change it. NISD is just playing by the rules as they are written.

2. Attacking NISD’s policy on privacy grounds seems like a losing strategy to me, since it’s fairly well established that students have fewer rights than adults and that school administrators have a lot of leeway in dealing with students. If you find the idea of a school tracking the whereabouts of its students outrageous, all I can say is are you sure your boss isn’t keeping tabs on where you are right now? We’re sufficiently far down this rabbit hole that the only way we’ll be able to find our way back out is if someone has been tracking our movements. Like it or not, I don’t see how what NISD is doing is out of bounds. There’s a much bigger conversation that we need to have about all this, but the outcome of this case one way or the other isn’t going to have any effect on that.

3. Objecting to NISD’s policy on religious grounds, however, may be the golden ticket. I don’t know how that may play out in the courts, but I’ll bet that this issue rises to the point where some enterprising GOP member of the Legislature takes it up. I can already see the bill, and the press conference announcing the bill, from here. It’s just a matter of time.

So that’s where we stand now. A judge temporarily blocked Hernandez’s suspension on Wednesday pending further hearings this week, so stay tuned. For more on this story, see here or just google “Andrea Hernandez RFID”. For a typically thoughtful analysis from a religious perspective, read The Slacktivist.

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10 Comments

  1. Story broke Friday, Judge blocked expusion.
    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2962502/posts

    What happened to the good old days of simply calling roll? You’re in class or you’re not. You’re on time or you’re not. Simple, efficient, and inexpensive. If I’m an administrator, that’s all I need to know.

    At my school in Kansas (late ’80s) administrators occasionally roamed the halls during class, and any student not in class was immediately questioned as for the reason they weren’t in class.

  2. Bill Shirley says:

    Her non-wearing of the tracking device could perhaps be contingent upon her never missing first period?

    You’re never too far down a rabbit hole to fight for rights.

  3. teach says:

    If using the computer chip to keep track of students is considered an invasion of privacy, then wouldn’t taking attendance the old fashioned way also be an invasion? I think it’s ridiculous that parents allow their child to protest something that is put in place to not only help with the attendance-taking process but also helps keep students safe. With a school as large as John Jay HS, it is really easy for students to “disappear” during and between classes. Sometimes they are somewhere else in the building doing something they shouldn’t be doing, and sometimes they skip all-together and leave the campus. It’s dangerous for them and for other students because no one can find them. The average student who is walking the halls is usually out to get something and then goes straight back to class. The “career” skippers, however, are excellent at covering their tracks. It’s difficult for teacher’s to monitor a skip because classes are so spread out, there are lots of spaces and hiding places in between for a student to use to “escape” classes. At least with the tracker, there is one more layer of protection to see if that student is somewhere on campus or has left. It’s not fool-proof, and I’m sure students will find ways to beat the system, but it is better than nothing. @Michael Jones–the good old days are long gone. There are thousands of students on the John Jay campus, and only a handful of administrators. Attendance is already computerized, but this keeps mistakes from happening–especially when there are subs and new teachers and the day is chaotic due to testing schedules or other activities.

  4. JB says:

    What privacy do you need in a public school system? What if there is an emergency and you need to be found quickly? What if you are abducted? They would know where/when you left the school.

  5. Paul Kubosh says:

    I believe it is government over reaching. Just my opinion. One day we all have chips so get ready for it. :)

  6. Chuck, the flip side of you first observation is that the RFIDs encourage fraud. A student who wants to skip can just give their ID to a classmate and be counted “present.” The difference is, the ISD can still get paid and has plausible deniability if it’s ever discovered the kid wasn’t there.

    JB’s point shows the fallacy: Since RFIDs can be foiled by having a friend carry your ID in their backpack, they fail to prevent any of those hypothetical problems and in some cases would likely exacerbate them.

    Unless you’re going to insert a chip under the skin like with pet IDs, this is a non-solution. Kids aren’t stupid, but clearly some administrators are.

  7. [...] I wrote about the battle over student RFID, I said it was just a matter of time before the Lege intervened. Turns [...]

  8. [...] can’t wait to see what he decides. See here and here for [...]

  9. [...] here, here, and here for the background. Northside ISD won the suit in district court; a motion for an [...]

  10. [...] here, here, and here for the background. The Lege took a look at restricting RFID use by school [...]

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