Schools track students’ whereabouts

Shelby H.

Managing Editor

The ability to track someone down with the press of a button seems like something only available in a James Bond movie. This technology, however, is completely accessible today to those less exciting than 007. Various schools in Texas have begun implementing student tracking systems, resulting in a national uproar. Students and parents alike argue that the use of such technology is an invasion of privacy and a waste of money, but there are others maintaining that the benefits of this tracking system outweigh any other concerns.

In 2004, one Texas school district began utilizing student tracking primarily for elementary-aged students as they got on and off the school buses. Initially, the program was intended to ensure safety for their students. The children are each issued a name tag, dubbed radio-frequency identification (RFID) badges, which contain chips constantly broadcasting a signal. If a student turned up inexplicably absent, or a parent was concerned about their child’s whereabouts, then the school could check and Tracking3-SHsee if the child had ever gotten on or off the bus that day. This new technology gave most everyone peace of mind until the program was extended to students in various other districts a few years later.

Today, it is Anson Jones Middle School and John Jay High School who have captured national media attention. Because their state funding, like all Texas schools, depends upon daily attendance numbers, administrators sought to avoid lost money because students were not present for roll call first thing in the morning. For every student who was present for everything but homeroom, the school lost money. With the new badges issued to every student, the school can track their whereabouts on campus at any time—whether it be a classroom, a counselor’s office, or the bathroom. By cracking down on stray students, the Texas schools hope to amass an extra $2 million return through state funding after their initial investment of $261,000 in the technology.

While the financial and security benefits of the RFID badges are clear, there are those vehemently speaking out against them. Concerned students, parents, and civil liberty groups fear that with the institution of this tracking system, Big Brother’s omnipresence will not be far behind. Senior Taylor Head believes this new program is outrageous, claiming, “They are not using the tracking for safety reasons or anything. The only reason they are doing this is because they want more money. It’s a complete invasion of privacy.” San Antonio students and parents are not remaining silent on the matter, forming organizations such as “Chip Free Schools” to oppose the new technology.

John Jay High School and Anson Jones Middle School are not tolerating any student protests of the new rules, however. School officials originally warned that there would be consequences for refusing to wear one’s ID badge. Andrea Hernandez, a sophomore at Jon Jay High, cites religious reasons for not wearing her new RFID badge, referencing the book of Revelation and calling the badges the “mark of the beast.” As a result, Hernandez has been barred from certain areas on campus including the library and the cafeteria, but what upset her most was her inability to vote for Homecoming court. Even though Hernandez endeavored to placate school officials by wearing her old, non-tracking ID badge, she was told at the ballot that because she did not have the proper voter ID, she would not be allowed to participate. As the program inches closer to full implementatiTracking Deviceson, administrators are now threatening suspension or a mandatory school transfer if students consistently refuse to wear their RFID badge.

Despite the initial uproar over the RFID system, the majority of affected students are not bothered by the new technology. Some take advantage of another way to express their personalities, hanging the badges from lanyards featuring anything from Hello Kitty to a favorite sports team. Others have decorated the badge itself with stickers and stamps. The students appreciate a faster, more efficient lunch line, as the new badges enable them to simply swipe and go. The same goes for the library where they can check out books without the need of a librarian. As a whole, the student body is either glad for the technology or, at worst, completely indifferent.

Currently this RFID program is still in its trial stages, but when it goes live in a matter of months, this technology will be accessible to 112 Texas schools, affecting nearly 100,000 students in the area. There certainly are exceptional benefits to this tracking technology. Thousands of schools have suffered budget cuts in the past years, and while every cent that they can make up is paramount, at its core there is a question of ethics to be explored. Is there a line between helping schools and hurting students that these districts are crossing? If citizens of the districts are truly upset about the program, they could easily rally against the school system and bring the RFID program down. However, it seems the majority believe the benefits truly do outweigh any concerns.

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