RFID Tracking in Schools

Northside Independent School District (NISD) Sophomore Andrea Hernandez, has been suspended for refusing to wear her school student ID card which is implanted with a radio-frequency

RFID Chip 007

RFID Chip 007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

identification chip (RFID).  The San Antonio based school district began issuing the RFID chip encoded cards at the start of the fall 2012 school year. The student ID badge has a bar code associated with a student’s Social Security number, and the RFID chip monitors pupils’ movements on campus, from when they arrive until when they leave.

While at a first glance at the issue, it seems all well and good for safety and security, for the school administration to be able to account for the students under their care.  However digging deeper, the safety and security isn’t the primary goal of the student RFID card.

With funding for schools is a hot political and water cooler topic,  NISD finds itself working to find each and every dollar it can.    The district’s budget is tied to average daily attendance at its schools.  If a student is not in his  or her seat during morning roll call, the district doesn’t receive daily funding for that pupil because the school has no way of knowing if the student is at school for the day.  However,  with the RFID tracking, students not at their desk but tracked on campus are counted as being in school that day, and the district receives its daily allotment for that student.

The use of RFID chips in conjunction with schools and school children has been going on since 2004.  A Houston, Texas school district began to monitor students at 13 of its campus’s in 2004.   California schools began to join the trend but were first turned away in 2005 when Sacramento, California elementary school parents raised concerns about the program.  A Richmond, California preschool began a federally funded RFID chip program in 2010, embedding the chips in the preschoolers clothing.

In Sutter, California, parents brought a halt to the plan after finding out about their children being test subjects for an RFID tracking program.  The parents were outraged at the ethics, or lack thereof, of a monetary deal the school made with a company to test and promote its product, while using their students as “guinea pigs.”

There are those who are opposed to the use of the RFID chips for their school children.  Concerns extend to not only the tracking of the students while on campus.  Those concerns extend to the students and their cards once they’ve departed the campus and are going about their daily lives in the local community.  Privacy groups wonder if those cards and their owners would continue to be monitored outside of the initial use of the card.  Another concern, given that the schools are using this as a tool for financial gain, is what protections do the students  have against a financially incentivized accessor to the data.

In spite of the widespread use of RFID chips in everything from employment badges to our passports, the unwarranted tracking continues to be problematic.

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