Student-Tracking Devices? Is This Big Brother?
Tracking chips in student ID cards? Is this legal?
Radio frequency identification is now being used to track some students in the Spring and Santa Fe school districts of Houston, Texas. ID badges in both districts include tracking devices that allow campus administrators to keep tabs on students’ whereabouts on campus. School leaders say that the devices improve security and increase attendance rates.
Tracking Devices A Great Asset?
“It’s a wonderful asset,” stated Veronica Vijii, principal of Bailey Middle School in Spring, one of the campuses that introduced the high-tech badges this fall.
However, not all parents and students agree with her. For one thing, they worry about identity theft and stalking, figuring that hackers could work out a way to track students after school.
Or An Invasion Of Privacy?
“There’s real questions about the security risks involved with these gadgets,” said Dotty Griffith, public education director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas. “Readers can skim information. To the best of my knowledge, these things are not foolproof. We constantly see cases where people are skimming, hacking and stealing identities from sophisticated systems.”
The Spring school district has been using this system since December, 2008. Currently, about 13,500 of the district’s 36,000 students have the upgraded badges. As administrators see it, the chief purpose is to check on the location of students marked absent by classroom teachers. There’s a financial gain here: if the student is found on campus, as often happens, the district can receive funding for that student; so far, $194,000 has been recovered.
However, state officials are concerned about the invasion of privacy issue, and have urged districts to offer an alternative to worried families.
The Way Of The Future?
Requiring students to wear an ID badge is fairly common practice in high schools in urban areas nowadays, but the addition of a radio tracking device is not. The ACLU fought the use of this technology in 2005, when an elementary school in California wanted to introduce the devices. Parents managed to get rid of the program.
Nevertheless, school districts are increasingly turning to technology to heighten on-campus security. In September, 2010, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (LA, MS, TX) ruled unanimously that a school district’s policy requiring all visitors to its schools to undergo an electronic sex offender background check before obtaining access to the school does not violate parents’ Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process right to direct their children’s education.
The idea of treating our students like animals, monitoring them in the same way that cattle are monitored, seems like a really bad move for our country’s educational institutions. Let’s hope that electronic tracking is not in the future for all our schools.
Creative Commons - chris.corwin