Texas School District Drops Embattled RFID Student IDs; Opts For Tons Of Cameras Instead

from the No-Child-Left-Unwatched dept

The Northside Independent School District (NISD) of Texas, best known for being sued by a student over its mandatory RFID card policy, is dropping the technology that originally landed it in the courtroom.

These chipped student ID cards were deployed to track students in hopes of bumping up the district's attendance numbers -- thus increasing its share of funding tied to daily attendance. Despite the court deciding in its favor, declaring the cards didn't violate the students' privacy or "right of religion," the district has decided to abandon the RFID tracking system. Apparently, the technology wasn't quite the attendance silver bullet administration thought it would be, as Slate's Will Oremus discovered.

Northside Independent School District spokesman Pascual Gonzalez told me that the microchip-ID program turned out not to be worth the trouble. Its main goal was to increase attendance by allowing staff to locate students who were on campus but didn't show up for roll call. That was supposed to lead to increased revenue. But attendance at the two schools in question—a middle school and a high school—barely budged in the year that the policy was in place. And school staff found themselves wasting a lot of time trying to physically track down the missing students based on their RFID locators.
Great. So something was so direly important it needed to be battled in court, but so ultimately useless the district abandoned it a year later. The failure of RFID cards to attach these Texas schools to the state money train probably won't deter other schools from implementing this technology. If anything, the court's ruling will make it easier for other districts to defend themselves against privacy complaints.

The most disappointing aspect is that the district has decided to swap one form of surveillance for another.
Meanwhile, Gonzalez told me Northside plans to capture the safety and security benefits of RFID chips through other technological means. "We're very confident we can still maintain a safe and secure school because of the 200 cameras that are installed at John Jay High School and the 100 that are installed at Jones Middle School. Plus we are upgrading those surveillance systems to high-definition and more sophisticated cameras. So there will be a surveillance-camera umbrella around both schools."
Some call it a panopticon. Some call it an umbrella. Using the word "umbrella" lends it a protective aspect, which is a bit misleading. This tactic seems unlikely to increase attendance and there's very little evidence that indicates more cameras = more safety.

The district's administrator also took care to point out that dropping the RFID cards was not a victory for civil liberties advocates.
But the backlash and the lawsuit weren't the deciding factors, Gonzalez told me. "While [privacy groups] are extolling the fact that they won, the fact is that that was a very minor part of our conversation, because the federal court and the court of appeals both upheld Northside's position on that. We were on solid ground."
Well, whatever justifies the district's actions, I guess. Gonzalez' statement isn't very flattering though, painting him as someone who values control over providing a welcoming learning environment.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    gnudist, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 3:22am

    school admins have a legitimate reason why images of nude children are on their screens.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 3:27am

    When you need to TRACK students to MAKE MONEY, you're doing education wrong.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    icon
    MikeC (profile), Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 3:41am

    Not sure why this is a error on schools part?

    Sure they did something un-popular, but it's not a bad idea. They piloted it in a couple of schools, didn't get the return they expected, caused them problems they didn't want to deal with so they dumped it. Not surprising - would you have liked it better if they put it in 20 schools and figured out they wasted the money - no everyone would assail them for it.

    Now I don't like all the camera's either but in today's sue-happy environment can you blame them one bit. Sure they put it in terms of protecting/locating students, but it's got nothing to do with that, is for protecting the school system. They want everything on tape (not that it let's them off the hook when it backfires and they are caught doing something they shouldn't) ... The place you can chastise the school is when incriminating tape of their mis-deeds conveniently disappears. It's time to make that an occurrence with a presumption of guilt if the tape isn't available or some such repercussions. Sauce for the goose as it were.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    icon
    saulgoode (profile), Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 3:43am

    One would think a better way to improve attendance would entail spending money on teachers and classrooms, not surveillance equipment.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    avideogameplayer, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 3:58am

    This would be a advantage to parents whose children are victims of schools overzealous enforcement of their retarded zero tolerance policies...

    But I'm sure any evidence will be 'misplaced'...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 4:17am

    My teenage self would regularly greet the cameras with a raised middle finger.

    Ahem.

    Privacy for little mischiefs is gone. I pity the kids today. But yet I'm powerless to stop this idiocy from happening (cameras are everywhere in my former school too). I honestly wish today's adults would allow kids to be kids again with all the screw ups and hilarious mischiefs.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 4:20am

    Re:

    That would not solve the real problem, a control freak in charge, interfering with and demoralising any staff, leading to a total lack of real leadership and enthusiasm for learning to inspire students.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 4:46am

    Re: Not sure why this is a error on schools part?

    I think you missed the point of the article. The purpose of the project was to increase revenue to the school, not to better the education experience our even to increase school safety. It was a basic ploy to get more money. That is not the job of our schools, their job is to teach children.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 5:01am

    Here's a novel concept...

    Instead of spending your time trying to figure out how to get the money for the kids that are not going to class, how about spending your time actually figuring out ways to get them to WANT to go to class. Then everybody wins.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 5:21am

    "Its main goal was to increase attendance by allowing staff to locate students who were on campus but didn't show up for roll call. That was supposed to lead to increased revenue."

    The main goal was to increase profits at companies which contribute to the campaign coffers. This was achieved success, therefore they are back for more.

    Ever wonder where all the tax dollars collected for school districts goes? Is this another vector in the "Starve The Beast" approach to killing education?

    Yea Texass

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    icon
    RyanNerd (profile), Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 5:31am

    Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

    When my electronics teacher was summoned via the PA system to go home on an emergeny. Somehow we got it in our heads to play a joke.
    We took the speaker on the PA system apart and (being the geeks and nerds that we were) we managed to override the PA system so that we could broadcast anything we wanted to. My friend had just bought his AC/DC album and brought it to school with him. The teacher had a record player which we wired up to the the PA system.
    It took administrators nearly an hour to shut the PA system down and to find our radio station. The entire school got to listen to Dirty Deeds as well as AC/DC's song about their bowling league Big Balls.
    [Sigh] Gone are those days of harmless pranks. I'm pretty sure if I was to have done the same thing in today's world it would be caught on tape and I would be charged with terrorism or hacking and end up fined and in jail.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 5:41am

    Re: Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

    Not to mention the fines from the RIAA for public broadcasting of the song.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 5:44am

    Re:

    You don't need to track them, you just need to show them being in the building at the count time.

    They get paid the same if the student is in class, or in a back hallway slipping into a diabetic coma because zero-tolerance won't let the student carry a needle.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 5:47am

    Re: Re: Not sure why this is a error on schools part?

    a ploy to get more money, for more funding for the school to allow that school to provide a better service.

    for a better education experience, and for school safety.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 5:50am

    As simple (and cheap) as Calling the Roll

    Roll Call, 2 minutes and your done.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    The Real Michael, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 6:08am

    Re: Re: Re: Not sure why this is a error on schools part?

    Putting 200 surveillance cameras up will improve neither the so-called "education experience" nor school safety. It's conditioning the children to accept big brother as a normal part of their everyday life.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 6:25am

    How the hell is paying someone to monitor 100-200 cameras going to increase revenue? I'm sorry, but sifting through that much video footage to find 1 student seems expensive.

    There is no way I buy the "all about the revenue" arguement anymore...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 6:45am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Not sure why this is a error on schools part?

    It is also training the rebellious ones in ways of defeating big brother. They will learn how to trade whatever they want while in the view of cameras.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    Wally (profile), Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 6:46am

    Re:

    Tape...and if something happens, it can be reviewed. Also, the school has like 3,000 or more students to watch which means there will always be security staff.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 6:48am

    Re: Re:

    But their reasoning for the RFID/Video cameras (according to the article) is to increase attendance and thus increase revenue. I don't possibly see how it's financially possible to justify looking for 1 student using 100-200 camera tapes... I just don't buy that.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    Wally (profile), Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 6:53am

    Cameras

    It should be noted that Texas public schools get their funding based on attendance. The RFID chips are embedded, man made foreign objects...which as the previous article on this had mentioned, the RFID tags were refused by a student based on religious principles.

    That being said, the cameras will likely have facial recognition biometrics to count attendance.

    Now to drive this home, Texas absolutely relies on attendance to get funding. Schools are cut deeply in funding if 2% of their students are absent. Texas gets sponsored funding as well from text books and is often the education theory (meaning teacher training) test bed of the US because of that.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 6:55am

    Re:

    It would be one hell of a server farm to carry out face recognition and other video processing in near real time. But just think of the animations the kids could produce if they hacked it, they could compete with Industrial Light and Magic.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 6:57am

    Re: Re: Re: Not sure why this is a error on schools part?

    I am not sure you can say that the effects are in line with the legislative goals. Better educational experience is - at least to some extend - in direct opposition to surveillance.

    The RFID system goes directly against the "better experience" since it is inconvenient to some degree and a such system do not provide much increase in safety, if any...

    The cameras can both better educational experience and school safety if used correctly. But it is hardly comforting for the people working there. I bet there is a significant upkeep on the system, making the potential extra funding a coverage for - maybe only some of - the surveillance instead of actually bettering education.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    icon
    Wally (profile), Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 6:58am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Texas has a huge population. Their funding relies on attendance. If the attendance has been up for several years, it's quite financially feasible. A 32GB class 10 SDXC card costs around $35 a pop...and even if that's too expensive they can use allocated space on the school's server to record things.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    The Real Michael, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 6:59am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Not sure why this is a error on schools part?

    Maybe, but that still doesn't justify the system's existance.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    The Real Michael, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 7:04am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Not sure why this is a error on schools part?

    Would you feel safe if you had a camera constantly trained on you? Even in the off-chance that something bad did occur, e.g. a shooting, cameras will not stop the crime from occuring. Cameras do not equal safety; they're just another tool for harvesting data, an unwarranted dragnet of surveillance. Creeping gradualism at work.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 7:05am

    Re: Cameras

    Schools are cut deeply in funding if 2% of their students are absent

    Which will have the effect of making the school experience worse, increasing the number of absentees.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    The Real Michael, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 7:07am

    Re:

    Like how they had surveillance cameras at Sandy Hook yet didn't release a single video of the shooter entering the premises? And now they're going to demolish the school (read: destroy all evidence) and rebuild it for no reason.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 7:08am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Liability limitation in court and a way to proove who the perp smashing the PC-room is. But I agree, it seems much more like a hedge than something that will improve anything.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    The Real Michael, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 7:11am

    Re: Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

    Wow, you guys did that? That's pretty awesome. You're right. Today, they'd level all sorts of phony charges against you and put you away, because the system is being run by insane control freaks.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 7:13am

    I've kind of reached a point where I'm of two minds about surveillance cameras. On the one hand it's somewhat invasive monitoring. On the other hand more and more camera records are serving as solid proof of misdeeds or lack thereof which does help protect people from injustice.

    So well this is certainly problematic, it does have much better potential to have positive benefits than the RFID tags did.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    The Real Michael, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 7:14am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    The school's ability to monitor students like so much cattle -- that much it will improve, nothing more.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    The Real Michael, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 7:22am

    Re:

    If anything, the security cameras will allow administrators to find more *violations* of school rules and the law, probably innoculous, petty things which will lead to more punishment.

    If a teacher or principal happens to take issue with any particular student, they can single out and monitor their every step, looking for anything to use against them. As well, it is the perfect system for perverts.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 7:28am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Not sure why this is a error on schools part?

    Cameras have a preventive effect. As far as I know, the effect is measured at 5-15 % so it is hardly a killswitch for crime, but a tiny improvement is a safety improvement.

    When that is said, I agree that it is far down the slippery slope of data harvesting. And no, cameras do not equal any kind of active safety. I know there are places, where an attrap and warning about surveillance is set-up just to get the effect...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 7:32am

    Re: Re:

    Yeah, that would be the negatives for this particular instance, though I was speaking more generally. On the flip side, it may cut down on any bullying, illegal activities, any fights occurring on camera will lose some he said she said factors, etc.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 7:38am

    Re: Cameras

    What the hell happened to making the parents/students responsible? I understand the chances of dropouts costing the "system" more money later on (welfare, etc.) is higher, but common. It's law anyway (until the student is 18). Why not just enforce that on the parents/student. Either the students show up for X number of days or spend a year at a boarding/military school...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    icon
    RyanNerd (profile), Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 8:25am

    Re: Re: Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

    Yeah. It cost me $ to replace my friends record, but it was worth it. We waited for the bell to ring at the end of class. We knew that the teacher had his "break period" after this class. So when everyone had left we quickly hijacked the PA system. We left the record player running and went to our next class, sat down and pretended to be innocent.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    Tom, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 8:55am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Not sure why this is a error on schools part?

    Although the camera can't prevent the crime from occurring in and of itself, if the camera is there it can record the crime. Those perpetrators who are slightly less inclined to get busted will avoid doing crimes in the camera areas.

    In the future, there will undubitably be few locations without cameras (including audio recording). Unless you can think of a better reason than cameras don't equal safety.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
    icon
    Wally (profile), Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 9:00am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    They have to count them like cattle in order to get funding. That's why the cameras are being installed. That sort of makes a bit more sense really. It's a huge school too, so making sure students attend the classes they're supposed to be in can be a daunting task.


    We don't have the camera placement schematics yet so given the information we have now, I cannot fully judge one way or the other on the necessity.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    icon
    Wally (profile), Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 9:03am

    Re: Re: Cameras

    Parents could be at work while things happen. "Ferris Buhler's Day Off" was a great moving showing this.

    The other problem is that kids aren't as motivated in poorer school districts because of their home life. It's a whole mix of things to consider.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 9:25am

    Students who are not in class should not count towards attendance. The entire incentive for these programs would disappear if they would just use some common sense and say the student has to actually be taught to count.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 9:28am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Not sure why this is a error on schools part?

    Audio recording? I doubt it. There are many teachers who would object to their lectures being recorded. They want deniability when they say something stupid.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    icon
    Daemon_ZOGG (profile), Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 11:27am

    "...Opts For Tons Of Cameras Instead"

    Along with the latest facial recognition software, I'm sure. 1984.. I believe we have arrived. ;P

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 12:25pm

    Re: Not sure why this is a error on schools part?

    Sure they did something un-popular, but it's not a bad idea


    In your opinion. In my opinion, it's a terrible idea.

    Now I don't like all the camera's either but in today's sue-happy environment can you blame them one bit


    I can blame them more than a bit. I can blame them at least 50% (and up to 50% of the blame is to the parents for allowing the schools to do this, or allowing their children to attend schools that do this.)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 12:27pm

    Re:

    My teenage self would regularly greet the cameras with a raised middle finger.


    I'm a teenager at heart: I still regularly flip off most security cameras that I see.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 12:32pm

    Re: Cameras

    That being said, the cameras will likely have facial recognition biometrics to count attendance.


    In which case, they'll have very inaccurate attendance figures, and possible not in their favor.

    Texas absolutely relies on attendance to get funding


    We get that -- it's not unlike a ton of school district in the country. Here's the thing, though: this is an effort to fake up the attendance figures by counting students who are in the building at all, rather than students who are in the correct class.

    If they really wanted accurate attendance figures, they'd do it the old-fashioned way: have the teachers take attendance before each class. There is no technology that is superior to that.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
    icon
    Gwiz (profile), Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 1:01pm

    Re: Re: Cameras

    ...they'd do it the old-fashioned way: have the teachers take attendance before each class.


    Bueller?... Bueller?... Bueller?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48.  
    icon
    JoeCool (profile), Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 1:15pm

    Perfect Attendance

    I've got the PERFECT solution for 100% attendance - just have school security go along with the buses in the morning, go inside the house, drag the kid out to the bus, and shackle them to the other kids. They stay shackled until they are dropped off at home after school. The "Chain Gang" method will surely GUARANTEE 100% attendance. That's worth it, right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
    identicon
    The Real Michael, Jul 23rd, 2013 @ 4:58am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    So then, if they really need to account for their presence, why not just install cameras at the entrance points instead of everywhere within the building, or roll call?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  50.  
    identicon
    The Real Michael, Jul 23rd, 2013 @ 5:00am

    Re: Re: Re:

    In that event the cameras would become more of an intimidation tool for the students. The system sounds more like something belonging in a prison rather than a school. All that's missing are barbed-wire fences facing inward and guard towers.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This