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San Antonio, Texas Students To Be Tracked Via RFID In Their IDs

(Irene North)  Yet another school has jumped on the RFID tracking of their students. This time the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas plans to track their students via RFID chips placed in their student IDs. It will begin trials at two schools and, if administrators like it, all 100,000 students will be required to use it.

District officials said the Radio Frequency Identification System (RFID) tags would improve safety by allowing them to locate students — and count them more accurately at the beginning of the school day to help offset cuts in state funding, which is partly based on attendance.

“We want to harness the power of (the) technology to make schools safer, know where our students are all the time in a school, and increase revenues,” district spokesman Pascual Gonzalez said. “Parents expect that we always know where their children are, and this technology will help us do that.”

No it won’t. It will only tell you where the student ID card is physically at. Unless the ID cards are glued onto a student, there is no guarantee that the student is in the same place as the card.

Gonzalez said the district plans to send letters to parents whose students are getting the the RFID-tagged ID cards. He said officials understand that students could leave the card somewhere, throwing off the system. They cost $15 each, and if lost, a student will have to pay for a new one.

And what if the ID card becomes lost or stolen and the family cannot afford to replace the card? What happens when a parent refuses to have their child tracked? What happens when a student leaves the card at home, intentionally or not, on a regular basis? What will the school do when all the students start carrying RFID-blocking wallets?
The district plans to spend $525,065 to implement the pilot program and $136,005 per year to run it, but it will more than pay for itself, predicted Steve Bassett, Northside’s assistant superintendent for budget and finance. If successful, Northside would get $1.7 million next year from both higher attendance and Medicaid reimbursements for busing special education students, he said.

The entire reason the school district is doing this is for attendance reasons. The higher the attendance rate, the more money they get from the government. If you can’t get kids to come to school now and be accounted for, how are the RFID embedded IDs going to change that? And if it does create higher attendance rates, then maybe the district needs to look at the competency of those currently taking attendance. It’s not that hard to count children at the beginning of each class.

In Tuesday’s board debate, trustee M’Lissa M. Chumbley said she worried that parents might feel the technology violated their children’s privacy rights. She didn’t want administrators tracking teachers’ every move if they end up outfitted with the tags, she added.

“I think this is overstepping our bounds and is inappropriate,” Chumbley said. “I’m honestly uncomfortable about this.”

And she should continue to be uncomfortable with this program and continue to learn exactly how this could end badly, particularly since no one has said how much identifying information will be included on the IDs.

The American Civil Liberties Union fought the use of the technology in 2005 at a rural elementary school in California and helped get the program canceled, said Kirsten Bokenkamp, an ACLU spokeswoman in Texas. She said concerns about the tags include privacy and the risks of identity theft or kidnapping if somebody hacks into the system.

It seems no one takes a serious look at the privacy implications, nor do they concern themselves with the terrible things that could happen if the system is hacked. They see dollar signs instead of simpler ways to improve attendance taking at the school and are willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get more government money.

Again, this system is about two things. First, it’s the extra money the district will possibly receive in greater attendance rates and, second, it’s about getting young people used to being tracked in all aspects of their life. When they are older, they will willing give up their privacy because it’s what’s always been done.

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