SAN ANTONIO, TX – A Texas school district is ignoring the privacy concerns of parents and pushing ahead with its decision to require all students to wear a locator radio chip that will enable school administrators to track their every move. Students who refuse to wear the locators may face expulsion.
Like so many things in public schools these days, the school district’s reason for the chips is not student safety but rather government dollars. In this case the district is looking to document the number of students who attend the school. WOAI television reported district spokesman Pasqual Gonzalez said the two schools have a high rate of truancy, and the district could gain $2 million in state funding by improving attendance.
According to the San Antonio newspaper, the program is expected to cost the district $526,065 to implement with annual cost of $136,005 per year to continue running the program.
However, a counselor at the school said that the district does not have anyone assigned to monitor the location of students or track the data. Steve Hernandez, a parent told WND News, “That destroys the argument that the purpose to track students for attendance purposes. How are they supposed to safeguard privacy concerns if no one is responsible for its administration?”
The website ChipFreeSchools.com cites health concerns over the chips and includes a position paper from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Big Brother Watch, Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom, Constitutional Alliance, Freedom Force International, Friends of Privacy USA, the Identity Project and Privacy Activism that said no students should be subjected to the “chipping” program “unless there is sufficient evidence of its safety and effectiveness.”
“Children should never be used as test subjects for technology, no matter what their socio-economic status. If schools choose to move forward without complete information and are willing to accept the associated liability, they should have provisions in place to adhere to the principles of fair information practices and respect individuals’ rights to opt out based on their conscientious and religious objections,” the statement said.
Student Andrea Hernandez has refused to wear the new badge citing religious and privacy concerns. Instead, she has been wearing her old badge to school in an attempt to have some form of ID. The district has yet to expel her but she says she has already faced consequences for her refusal to take the chip.
“About two weeks ago when I went to cast my vote for homecoming king and queen I had a teacher tell me I would not be allowed to vote because I did not have the proper voter ID,” she explained. “I had my old student ID card which they originally told us would be good for the entire four years we were in school. He said I needed the new ID with the chip in order to vote.”
In an October 2 letter, Deputy Superintendent Ray Galindo said he was willing to let Hernandez wear a badge without the chip, but then goes on to portray the issue as one of her refusing to wear any type of ID. “We are simply asking your daughter to wear an ID badge as every other student and adult on the Jay campus is asked to do.”
Galindo went on to suggest there would be consequences if she did not agree to wear the new badge. “I urge you to accept this solution so that your child’s instructional program will not be affected. As we discussed, there will be consequences for refusal to wear an ID card as we begin to move forward with full implementation.”
Steve Hernandez said the so-called accommodation actually came with other 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,” Hernandez explained. “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.”
Heather Fazio, executive director of Texans for Accountable Government, said the district has been unresponsive in addressing parents’ concerns. “The school board refuses to put it on the agenda or hold a forum where the matter can be debated publicly,” Fazio said. “Parents are allowed to speak to the board on any item not on the agenda, but the board is under no obligation to respond to what is being said. When we mentioned our concerns to them, they looked at us with indifference.”
Highlighting the dangers the chips pose to student privacy issues even while off campus, Fazio said she was able to get list containing the names and addresses of all of the students in the district by filing a Freedom of Information Request.
“After paying a $30 fee with the FOIA request I was able to get every student’s name and address,” Fazio explained. “Using this information along with an RFID reader means a predator could use this information to determine if the student is at home and then track them wherever they go. These chips are always broadcasting so anyone with a reader can track them anywhere.”
The bottom line is this. In its attempt to garner more state money, this school district is making its students even easier to track by predators and ignoring their basic civil liberties.