A few months back, Tim Geigner covered the story of a Texas school district's efforts to track its students' whereabouts
using student ID cards with embedded RFID chips. The district attempted to paint this "students-as-livestock/prisoners" effort as being there for the safety of students and staff. But underneath all the "safety" talk was a large pile of money that the school district hoped to pocket. The so-called "Student Locator" project Texas' Northside Independent School District was implementing put school officials within handout distance of nearly $1.7 million in state government funds.
Although many students and parents have expressed their displeasure with the new program, it wasn't until a student at John Jay High School's Science and Engineering Academy opted out that any punishment had been handed out in connection with the RFID cards. Andrea Hernandez has refused to wear the ID card, citing religious and privacy reasons. In response, the school district has suspended her indefinitely, moving her to another high school in the same district that has not yet implemented the Smart ID policy.
Despite all the talk about "safety," the school district was more than happy to undercut the entire stated purpose of the Smart ID in order to keep Hernandez and her family from speaking out against the program
The school offered a special lanyard with the RFID tag removed, in the hopes to put a damper on the whole situation. The student’s father refused the deal, however, because it came with strings attached.
“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,” Steve Hernandez told WND. “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.”
Apparently, the ID cards are so
essential that the school district is willing to suspend a student for not
wearing one, but not essential enough that the ID card needs to be fully functioning. Any stated concerns about "safety" are completely laughable if the district is willing to let students wander the school grounds untracked, sporting only plastic badges.
It's pathetic that this attempt was even made. The school district's main concerns seem to be a) having students appear
to support the program, b) using the RFID cards to provide proof of attendance in exchange for funding and c) shutting down criticism.
Unfortunately for the school, the attempted suspension is now on hold
The Hernandez family decided to take action against the school with the help of the Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties and human rights group which immediately took the view that the school district is looking for more public funding, which it can only receive if there is proof of positive student attendance rates. Rutherford attorneys filed a petition for the aforementioned TRO, as well as immediate injunctive and declaratory relief alleging that the school’s actions violate Hernandez’s rights under Texas’ Religious Freedom Act, the First Amendment, and the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Rutherford Institute's filing (PDF)
“The court’s willingness to grant a temporary restraining order is a good first step, but there is still a long way to go—not just in this case, but dealing with the mindset, in general, that everyone needs to be monitored and controlled,” John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, said in a statement. While the TRO has been granted, a hearing on the preliminary injunction will take place next week.
states that the district currently has no policy or procedure in place that deals directly with the RFID badges, much less one stating that students can be suspended for failing to wear the new IDs. It also points out that requiring Hernandez to wear a nonfunctioning ID as a "show of support" for the Student Locator Project violates her First Amendment rights by compelling her to convey a message she does not agree with. The filing also claims that the school district's ID program clearly violates both her Fourteenth Amendment rights as well as Texas Freedom of Religion Act. According to Hernandez, many other students have refused to wear the ID cards, but none of them have been punished to the extent that she is, prompting claims of religious persecution.
All in all, this doesn't look good for the school district, which has pushed through an intrusive student surveillance program in order to secure additional government funding. The "safety" of the student body is just the sales pitch. Any supposed "concern" for student safety went out the window, along with the legitimacy of the program, the moment the district offered to remove the tracking chip. The audacity of the district's actions is breathtaking -- both the implementation of such a controversial program, and its response to this student's refusal to participate.
The only other situation in which human beings might
need to be constantly surveilled at an individual level is at a maximum security prison. But if you're willing to treat minors looking for an education like dangerous convicted criminals, there's no telling what your next "bright idea" might be. Here's hoping this early effort leads to the entire program being scrapped before it can do any more damage.