January 14, 2013, 12:14 PM — Tracking teenagers at school with high-tech chips has come to a head in Texas.
A federal judge there last week ruled against a teenager who had been suspended from high school for refusing to wear a radio frequency ID chip around her neck.
The case highlighted the intersection of technology and issues of religious and personal freedom as well as the right to privacy.
Last fall, as part of a trial that could someday include 112 schools and nearly 100,000 students, Northside Independent School District in San Antonio issued students at two of its campuses new badges with an embedded RFID chip in order to track their locations.
Unlike passive chips that transmit data only when scanned by a reader, these chips have batteries and broadcast a constant signal so they can track students' locations on school property. Andrea Hernandez was one student who took issue with the badge, saying she had religious and privacy concerns and refused to wear it. Since then, her case went to court but now a judge has ruled against her.
The school had said in recent months that Hernandez could wear a chip-less badge, but her father said if she did so it would appear as if she approved of the program, which she does not.
"The First Amendment does not protect such concerns," U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia wrote in court documents (PDF). "The accommodation offered by the District is not only reasonable it removes plaintiff's religious objection from legal scrutiny all together. Plaintiff is not likely to succeed on the merits of her free exercise claim under the First Amendment."
Money was a primary reason the school district implemented the tracking badges. The two schools have a high truancy rate and by proving kids are on campus the district can garner an extra $2 million in state funding by cracking down on truancy.
There's no doubt that education will be more effective if more students are attending class. Also, if state fiscal support remains high, the district certainly has more resources with which to educate students more effectively. And the Northside website that provides information about the "'Smart' Student ID Cards project" makes a reasonable point. "Our students' parents expect that we always know where their children are in our schools," it says.
Yet people continue to voice privacy and legal concerns.