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.

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Comments on “Texas School District Drops Embattled RFID Student IDs; Opts For Tons Of Cameras Instead”

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MikeC (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

The Real Michael says:

Re: Re: Re:2 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 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…

Tom says:

Re: Re: Re:3 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.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

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.)

Ninja (profile) says:

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


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.

Anonymous Coward says:

“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

RyanNerd (profile) says:

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.

RyanNerd (profile) says:

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.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 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.

Wally (profile) says:


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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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…

John Fenderson (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

The Real Michael says:

Re: 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.

JoeCool (profile) says:

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?

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