October 19 2012

Texas Size Trouble Over Tracking Students

Vicki E. Alger

Texas launched its controversial “Student Locator Project” on October 1. When fully implemented, it will reach more than 100 Texas schools districts and around 100,000 students.

The project was launched to combat truancy and improve attendance rates by issuing students ID badges with embedded radio chips to track their location. WND reports:

At the beginning of the school year students at John Jay High School and Anson Jones Middle School within the Northside Independent School District [San Antonio] were told their old student ID badges were no longer valid. During registration they were required to obtain new badges containing a radio frequency identification tracker chip. Students refusing the chips were reportedly threatened with suspension, fines, or being involuntary transferred. Unlike chips used by retailers to track inventory which activate when scanned by a reader, these chips contain batteries and actively broadcast a continuous signal. …

[T]he two schools have a high rate of truancy, and the district could gain $2 million in state funding by improving attendance. According to the San Antonio newspaper, the program is expected to cost the district $526,065 to implement with annual cost of $136,005 per year to continue running the program.

However, a counselor at the school told Steve Hernandez, a parent whose daughter Andrea is a sophomore at John Jay, that the district currently does not have any single person assigned to monitor the location of students or track the data. …

But the senseless civil liberty violations don’t stop there. Andrea Hernandez has thus far refused to wear the new tracker ID badge out of both privacy and religious concerns. She and her father tried reaching out to the American Civil Liberties Union. They declined to take her case “because organization officials didn’t feel Andrea’s religious concerns would advance their core mission.” Meanwhile, Andrea is paying a price at school, as WND continues:

… Hernandez has been wearing her old badge to school in an attempt to have some form of ID. While the district has not yet expelled any students for refusing to wear the badges, Hernandez has already faced consequences for her refusal to take the chip. “About two weeks ago when I went to cast my vote for homecoming king and queen I had a teacher tell me I would not be allowed to vote because I did not have the proper voter ID,” she explained. “I had my old student ID card which they originally told us would be good for the entire four years we were in school. He said I needed the new ID with the chip in order to vote.”

The deputy superintendent is trying to negotiate a side deal with Andrea’s father so they’ll go along to get along, as it were:

“He told me in a meeting that if my daughter would proudly wear her student ID card around her neck so everyone could see, he would be able to quietly remove her chip from her student ID card,” Hernandez explained. “He went on to say as part of the accommodation my daughter and I would have to agree to stop criticizing the program and publicly support … it. I told him that was unacceptable because it would imply an endorsement of the district’s policy and my daughter and I should not have to give up our constitutional rights to speak out against a program that we feel is wrong.”

While school officials focus on PR, Andrea is concerned about her academics.

“In order to get into the Science and Engineering Academy I had to have good grades, great attendance, and be in pre-AP [advanced placement] classes. I had to fill out an application and write an essay about why I would be a good student. Now they want to take the education that I have worked so hard for away from me because I refuse to wear a tracker.”

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