Texas student suspended for refusing RFID tracker

A student in San Antonio, TX, has been suspended from school for refusing wear a RFID tracking device on privacy and religious grounds (she believes the tracker is somehow related to the "Mark of the Beast"). The school's funding is based on student attendance, so they use prisoner-style trackers to follow students' movements. A judge has temporarily reversed the suspension.

The suspended student, sophomore Andrea Hernandez, was notified by the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio that she won’t be able to continue attending John Jay High School unless she wears the badge around her neck, which she has been refusing to do. The district said the girl, who objects on privacy and religious grounds, beginning Monday would have to attend another high school in the district that does not yet employ the RFID tags.

The Rutherford Institute said it would go to court and try to nullify the district’s decision. The institute said that the district’s stated purpose for the program — to enhance their coffers — is “fundamentally disturbing.”

“There is something fundamentally disturbing about this school district’s insistence on steamrolling students into complying with programs that have nothing whatsoever to do with academic priorities and everything to do with fattening school coffers,” said John Whitehead, the institute’s president.

Student Suspended for Refusing to Wear a School-Issued RFID Tracker [David Kravets/Wired]


  1. While I think it’s creepy to tag kids in this way, I find it hard to imagine that either the privacy or the religious argument is going to hold up in court. 

    1. The privacy concerns I have some sympathy for, though I wouldn’t personally care less. I’d find an objection on ethical principles and as a protest much more compelling. Religious grounds, though, without a reasoned argument behind them, are just so much wah-wah-wah to my ears.

      1. I have sympathy for the privacy concerns as well (hence the “creepy” comment) but I’d be surprised if a judge were to say that a student has a right keep his or her location on a school premises private from those running the school. 

        The religious grounds are not only wah-wah (and woo) but once accepted they become a “get out of anything” card.

      2. On the one hand, as a non-American, nonreligious person, it’s easy to agree with your sentiment about religious grounds. I can’t imagine ever uttering something like “mark of the beast” except in snark.

        On the other hand, I also think that if we presume that this girl has a sincerely-held religious belief about this issue, dismissing it is a very dangerous thing to do. I can imagine being in her situation, having a sincere belief that wearing it is religiously wrong, and feeling persecuted if the court denies me the right to refuse to wear it. It’s not like it’s really causing a detriment to other people – unlike some of the truly deplorable things do in the name of relgious beliefs, cf Westboro – so I think some weight must be given to a religious argument rather than dismissing it as “wah-wah-wah”.

        And since America was a country founded, in part, against the idea of a state-mandated “one religion”, if it’s going to work anywhere, it could well be there.

        1. At what point, though, do we draw the line where religious liberty crosses into unacceptable and detrimental   privilege? And what can people claim this liberty for? Deeply held beliefs? That’s… vague to the point of inanity. 

          Really, if the only things you can back your religious beliefs with are voices in your head, other people telling you to believe it, and a dogmatic retreat to some interpreted material, well, are we really losing anything as a free society if we tell you to come back when you have something worth listening to?

          1. Losing the freedom to practice religion as one chooses seems like a big one to me.

            Not wanting to participate in being constantly tracked and surveiled while in a mandatory educational system for budget needs seems pretty fucking evil and beastly to me.  Teaching kids this is OK behavior from authority is BAD.

            You might not like the metaphors that people use to agree with you but there is no need to place disrespectful down-talk here because you can’t entertain an idea in your head.

          2. I don’t think you quite parsed what I wrote. Something like that 2nd paragraph is precisely what I was wanting; an inarticulate and dogmatic refusal based on religious beliefs that aren’t even attempted to be communicated and justified is insufficient on any reasonable level.

          3. At what point, though, do we draw the line where religious liberty crosses into unacceptable and detrimental privilege?

            That’s pretty easy for me – when it crosses into harming others.  Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.

          4. And what can people claim this liberty for? Deeply held beliefs?

            Here’s a practical example (completely unrelated to the mandatory wearing of RFID tags). If you’re unemployed, and drawing unemployment insurance, normally you have to be available to work during all the days and hours the work you customarily do is done.

            In other words, if you usually seek work in retail sales, which is usually done all days of the week, during day and swing shift, you can’t say, “I’m not going to work on Sundays from 9am until 1pm, just because I don’t want to.” That’s called “imposing a condition” that would potentially keep you from getting a job, and would normally disqualify you from receiving unemployment.

            That is, except if you have deeply held religious beliefs, and go to church on Sundays from 9am until 1pm. You’re not going to get denied benefits for exercising your religious beliefs. I am only familiar with the laws of my state, but I’d be willing to bet that most states have the same exception.

            You can debate whether or not this is reasonable, but there’s a concrete example for you.

            (If you don’t understand the mark of the beast thing, it’s in the book of Revelation.)

          5. You have a slippery slope argument here.

            Typically the slippery slope is invoked to show that there is no clear demarcation between the current situation and some hypothetical extreme.

            One clear ‘line in the sand’ for religious arguments is that we defer to the individual’s religious sentiment up to the point it would cause harm.  In this case it’s an easy call.  She has a religious objection to having a mandatory tracking device.  Will it cause any harm to defer to her religious conviction.  No.  We can, in clear conscience, make an exception.

          6. I imagine “harm” is codified in law — do you happen to know what that definition is? I’m wondering if an argument could be made that by diminishing the revenue collected by the school she is, in fact, harming other students.

            (not saying I agree with that position; just that the school’s lawyers may be able to make the claim)

          7. Invictus I doubt the lawyers could make that stick but don’t doubt they would try. If she is never truant then she can’t be part of diminishing the revenue.

        2. She’s willing to be expelled from her school over this.  I’m pretty sure we can safely call her objection principled.

          1. You’re not helping.  I was raised in an religiously ‘blinding’ environment, and the only way I got out of it was through education.  

            You can’t seriously be suggesting that we deny an education to this girl because she’s been indoctrinated to believe that mandatory tracking devices are evil.

      3. It bugs me how often I hear this sentiment about religious exceptions.

        I’m neither a Sikh nor a Mormon (the only religions I know of that require special underwear), and I see the requirements that the adherents of those faiths wear special underwear as kind of odd.  But, should a branch of the state start requiring members of those religions to wear underwear incompatible with their religion’s requirements, my or your or anyone else’s opinions of the underpants of members of a religion we think is kooky are completely irrelevant.

        What is relevant is that the state would be overreaching its legitimate authority, to no justifiable purpose, trying to force people to violate principles that they hold sacred, and that they do absolutely no harm in following.  If you or I or anyone else think those principles are silly, we get to do exactly one thing – shut up about it.  I don’t believe in the Mark of the Beast?  Good for me, I can wear the badge if I have no other objections.

        What matters is
        – is the goal the state purports to be trying to achieve life-and-death important?
        – can the goal be achieved in a way that does not violate anyone’s religious principles?

        In this case, the goal the state is trying to achieve is laughably trivial, so trivial that any objection more substantial than “the lanyard on the RFID badge is purple and it doesn’t go with my complexion” should be enough to defeat it.

        The same would go if the school were trying to force Jewish and Muslim students to eat pork, Hindus to eat beef, Buddhists to eat any meat at all, Muslims to attend a co-ed swim time, Sikhs or Rastafarians to cut their hair short, or Amish to drive cars.

        1. This story, and all of the examples that you used are instances of the state overreaching.  The religions of the people involved are immaterial.
          – no one should be forced to swim co-ed
          – no one should be forced to drive
          – no one should be forced to wear specific underwear

          Religious people shouldn’t have special exemptions, if the rules are oppressive to begin with, then we should challenge the legitimacy of those rules.

          1. If the school has booked time at the local pool for a swimming section of phys ed, and saved costs by booking shared dates for the boys’ and girls’ classes, I’d say it’s still reasonable to expect everyone to show up – barring a principled objection, which can be a religious one, or potentially on some other grounds. The same could go for a driving course.

            If you just skip those courses because swimming is too much like hard work, or you’d rather be smoking, it’s reasonable to expect a failing grade.

          2. Thanks: there was a lot of stuff I wanted to respond to while I was in the pub, and you have pretty much stated my feelings.

            I don’t really have any respect for religion. If you can manoeuvre yourself out of laws, regulations and expectations for religious reasons, then “eh, I just don’t feel like it” should be given equal consideration. Religion is just a word people use so they don’t have to argue. 

            And anything that can be avoided by such measures really shouldn’t be a law to begin with.

          3. No, thats a massive oversimplification. Religion codifies the traditional ethics and customs of most peoples. You may, quite rightly, want to question the legitimacy of much of that practice, but our ethics and customs, religious and secular, are to a large extent arbitrary.

            Dig to the bottom of that well, and you’ll find much of what you generally accept as reasonable standards of behaviour and propriety have no pure logical correlation, they are just conventions.

            While I agree that religious conventions shouldn’t occupy a higher status than others in terms of public policy and matters of conscience, I don’t agree that they can be discarded on the grounds of lack of strictly rational support. You will find very little strictly empirical rational support for much of what we as a community agree is appropriate behaviour, and issues like privacy often fall squarely within this dilemma.

          4. @robulz:disqus : I think that despite disagreeing with me, everything you said matches entirely with my sentiment. If religion can get a pass, then there shouldn’t be a stricture there at all. 
            You either have laws or you don’t; making exceptions for some people just because they label their objections as ‘religious’ is ridiculous both for the law, and because it encourages completely inane and thoughtless dogma in religion.

          5. I’m not sure I’m interpreting this question right, but…

            Yes, co-ed swimming is a big no-no for at least one religion (or some interpretations of it, at least). To the point of women having separate enclosed beaches and pools. At least some public pools in my country provides for this reason a “women only hour” so that women and girls of this religion can go swim (mainly immigrants, so I don’t see “women only beaches” or “women only pools” ever being provided here).

            We also have public pools where nude swimming is allowed. :)

          6. If workers for police or a company needed special safety underwear, would you allow objectors to take those jobs and refuse the safety equipment?

            That’s what’s happening here.  The tag can only be tracked if it’s in the open, it can be taken on and off.  She’s only being asked to wear it through certain doors.

            Did she also opt out of a library card and a lunch card and a driver’s license or credit card?  Does she not buy things at stores with ‘security devices’ on them?  They’re not much different.

    2. I agree it’s creepy to tag kids this way. (Though, oh, how I wish I didn’t have to take attendance!) But the real solution is don’t make schools so financially desperate that a ridiculous system like this is the only way to make their operating budget.

      1.  On the topic of budget: Do they not have money to pay teachers? Because, those might be able to see of all students are in the classroom, wouldn’t they? At least that’s how we did in in the old days, and it seemed to work…

        I mean, what does such a supid 1984-esque system cost! I think they have too much money, or too much religious belief in technology or I don’t know, but this is definitely the most expensive and most objectifying way of checking attendance. Someone should go to jail for implementing it.

    3. The privacy argument won’t hold up, as the school district twice offered to allow the student to wear an ID bagde without RFID, but she (or her parents) refused.

    4. Mark of the Beast RFID connections are pretty mainstream in America, certainly in the “red states”… I don’t think it will be difficult to find a sympathetic judge. And while as an atheist I think it’s silly and don’t really have a problem with ignoring religion when it comes to writing policy, the law seems quite clear in America that religious freedom is to be taken seriously by the courts. Much more so than “privacy”, which is not clearly defined as a Constitutional right. Privacy is the one that disturbs me here, it’s pretty messed up for them to track students like this, but I can see the religious issue being the one that has more strength in the courts.

    1.  Yep.  And Deny, deny, deny. 

      “Your RFID isn’t working again.”

      “Oh, huh.  Weird.   I guess I just put out one of those weird electromagnetic effects that fries them.”

    2. Yes, and they’d notice that you had effectively disappeared from school completely. You’d either get marked absent a lot, assuming that the school doesn’t take manual attendance, which usually has consequences in a school setting, or they’d figure out that you fried the RFID chip and suspend you as they did this girl. A better option to ensure your own privacy would be to clone the RFID chip and find a way to get your RFID signature attached to someone else with the same class schedule as you, preferably without screwing up your own. That depends on the way the badge works, but it should be possible. Alternatively, you stick the badge in a Faraday pouch whenever you don’t want to be observed.

      1. Buy Faraday Cage Wallet. Ooops hey I was just keeping my ID tag safe. I didn’t realize my wallet was blocking the signal.

        Sadly that only works once.

        1.  I was going to suggest that, but it doesn’t solve the underlying problem of the carrying the card and having to produce it at specific times.

          1. Actually yes it does. If the card is bar code/scan at specific points to gain entry/get recorded/get lunch you can still do that, and then put it back in the wallet and not have nanny able to track you.

    3.  any solution that allows one individual to circumvent the system is only temporary. This type of thing is medieval, and it must end. I find it inconceivable that in a state that calls itself democratic, that even claims to have invented all those unalienable rights and freedom blabla … someone treats students like wares! I hope one of these cases goes to the supreme court and the practice is ended.

  2. Additionally, the “fattening their coffers” argument is tough to buy into – a public school in Texas surely is struggling to even keep their coffers from wasting away into nothing. Not that tracking is justifiable, but it’s far from boundless greed.

    1. I agree.  It sounds like they’re trying to show evidence of attendance, i.e., prove they’re entitled to the money they’re supposed to be entitled to.

      While I really don’t like the idea of students being RFID-tagged, assuming security concerns are accounted for, none of the arguments against it seem really persuasive.  

      1.  It’s the “assuming security concerns are accounted for” part that really fires this discussion, so it’s important not to just hand-wave it away. You absolutely cannot assume anything about the security of systems like these. Someone has to have access to the data on student comings and goings in order to use it to prove their budget argument, and there are absolutely no guarantees that it’s safe (and it depends where you draw the line of “safe”, anyway). There are lots of examples of schools doing bad things with the technology they use with and on their students, as any reader of this blog will know. There’s no reassurance that this won’t be used in the same way. It’s all well and good wanting to prove attendance to help your budget, but tracking students’ every move is one of the worst possible ways to do it if protecting their privacy is important.

        1. I am indeed handwaving away security concerns; I’ll cop to that. As you say, “safe” is a subjective term. But the discussion I saw wasn’t about security, it was about privacy, the use of this technology for profit, and the general ickiness factor.

          I don’t believe that “someone might abuse it” is a reason to prohibit something without weighing it against the possible consequences and the means of mitigating those consequences. In other words: don’t prohibit something if the misuse of that thing can itself be enforceably prohibited. (But that is a very complex subject all its own.)

    2. a public school in Texas surely is struggling to even keep their coffers from wasting away into nothing.

      It’s a school IN TEXAS.  They’re probably teaching the students that the earth is 5,000 years old and Jefferson was a Communist.  Defunding them would improve the students chances of gaining real knowledge.

      1.  Now, now. I spent my last 2 years of High School in Dallas. W. T. White and by golly, it sure lived up to its name. The people of ‘color’ were imported and sat over “there”. Nonetheless, I got a fine education, considering. Great math/science. Excellent English classes (in fact in one, I played George from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in the scene where George pulls a realistic toy pistol on Martha. Can’t imagine that as even a possibility these days, tho….)

      2. I went to High School about 15-20 minutes from S.A. and was taught evolution in a proper bio class, took and passed multiple AP classes and could have been in the IB program if I chose too, people need to get off their high horses in feeling like they’re superior to people coming from Texas public schools. Sure our state has its problems but most do, but as always the state you live in is surely perfect and no one in public office has said or done anything less than respectable and your public schools should be the role model for the nation right? People like to shit on Texas but  lets remember that just one state over they are actually teaching creationism in schools receiving public funding.

        1. I don’t defend Texas relative to other places anymore despite the similarities good and bad between all states.

          When CT-born GWB proudly claims the place I’m happy to let it go especially with better places elsewhere to be and claim.

          Oh but don’t forget that to the other side Arizona is out-doing Texas with regard to discriminatory policies regarding immigrants.

  3. I’ve heard these described several times as “trackers”, but is that actually the case? Is this actually a system that tracks you and knows where you are, or is it simply a swipe-in/swipe-out system?

    I’ve heard of a lot of schools that have student cards that activate doors and can be used for automating attendance registers, but I’ve not heard of an RFID system that can actually be used to track you in this way.

    On another note, it seems wrong to financially penalise schools, often in the most deprived areas, with the most difficult kids, for those kids failing to attend. There is only so much a school can do, the county and parents have to take responsibility too.

    1. I’ve heard of a lot of schools that have student cards that activate doors and can be used for automating attendance registers, but I’ve not heard of an RFID system that can actually be used to track you in this way

      If your card is tied to your id and your card opens a door and that is logged then it is tracking you.

      1. When a school does it, it’s tracking and anathema. When a large tech firm like every single tech firm in Silicon Valley does it, it’s…?

    2. This is NOT a swipe in or just an attendance recording system. There are articles showing what this system does, and sensors are installed throughout the school to give real time tracking (yes actual tracking) of where a student is at any time in the school. The last article I read the journalist was shown the system where they really do have a floorplan realtime display of the school and where students are.

      1. Thanks, I was hoping someone might actually answer my question eventually :)

        That really is a whole other kettle of fish. That’s really quite sinister.

        What saddens me most about many of these sorts of stories, as well as the way young people are being acclimatised to the idea of being tracked, is the utter lack of trust that school administrators show in their students.

        1. Exactly, previous criticisms I’ve seen point out that it essentially also shows who associates with who. Definitely an invasion of privacy. There’s no reason whatsoever to not having a pure clocking in/clocking out system. 

        1. The bar code probably offends them in relation to Revelations in the same manner the RFID chip would, tough I wonder how they buy things.

          But another poster clued me in, as a condition for the non-RFID badge, the complainant’s father was required to end his opposition to the program and publicly proclaim his support for it. He refused (thank goodness) 

          I think he should make that requirement a base tenet of his argument against the program and it’s implementers. The condition is disgusting.

  4. They would avoid all this if they changed the method of funding to be based on passed students, as it is in Europe. No need to track them like they’re prisoners. It’s not perfect, but not nearly as silly as this!

      1. Shifty administrators, performance pay, testing instead of teaching, districts run by bankers, that’s the right wing model that both Democrats and Republicans have sadly embraced.

    1. You would incentivize passing of students who shouldn’t be passed (this already happens; your proposal would just exacerbate it) and teaching to the test for standardized, externally-administered tests.

  5. Some schools in Seoul, Korea have RFID badges that trigger a sensor to let parents know when their kid arrives and leaves school – only.  They are not for tracking.

        1. No? I’d say it is. However, I’ll also qualify that by saying I’ve been thinking of this issue in terms of adults. Kids have less rights and are often tracked. Constantly actually. 

    1. That isn’t what’s being used here. These are passive sensors installed throughout the school so students are tracked in real time to their location within the school. Pretty much the definition of tracking.

    2. I’m sure parents like the idea of knowing if their kid is at school or hanging out with the other delinquent stoners in the park.
      The real problem with technology like this is while it’s eminently useful for keeping track of people, it also makes people feel less free.  When people feel less free, they stop trying to innovate and think out of the box and instead they worry about how to not being noticed.
      It’s not that most folks want to do a bunch of illegal deeds, they just don’t want someone watching them.

    1. That’s my concern, RFID was designed for close-range data, surely the broadcast power needed to read this cards in real-time, all day, is a bit worrying?

    1. Under the modern government mindset that has given us pornoscanners in airports, drones blowing up children from the skies, and the feds shipping arms to Mexican drug cartels, “it’s totally fucking creepy” would probably be seen as an argument in its favor.

  6. Regardless of what I think of its basis in reality, I think the religious argument is more likely to succeed. Schools are already modeled on prisons (from what I understand), so why not go whole hog?
    edited bc I am Typos the Great and Terrible.

    1. Do you know what the requirements are for homeschooling in the US — as in, being exempted from the mandatory public education system?

      The student must follow the state-mandated curriculum. If one of the student’s parents holds a bachelor’s degree or higher, the parents may select the curriculum of their choice from a list of approved curricula. If a parent holds a B.Ed., the parents may devise their own curriculum.

      All of which goes right out the window if the parents claim that they are homeschooling their child on religious grounds. No restrictions of any kind then.

      1.  Really? In Ontario you send your school board a form letter, they send a form letter back (they are required to say yes) and you’re done. You can sit all day and eat ice cream if you want…

        1. Sort of. 

          The letter is a letter of intent that states you are providing satisfactory instruction. While not defining “satisfactory instruction” it is made clear that the School Board or any child protection/similar agency may intervene under the Education Act if it is suspected that a child is not receiving satisfactory instruction and if this occurs a third party is brought in to test the kid.

          So you could sit all day and eat ice cream, but risk being unaccredited or removed from the home on a basis of neglect.

          1.  In theory, they can do so. In practice they don’t check. They aren’t allowed to check unless they have a reasonable suspicion that education is not happening. Something has to be really hinkey before they can intervene.

            Policy/Program Memorandum 131 (this is the MOE’s policy doc on HSing) states that the school board, “should accept the written notification of the parents each
            year as evidence that the parents are providing satisfactory instruction
            at home.”
            I home schooled for 3 years. They don’t check.

            Here’s the link: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/extra/eng/ppm/131.html

      2.  One of the reasons that my sister moved from Michigan to New Mexico is because of the homeschooling differences – no restrictions there as opposed to having to actually write out a curriculum here. My sister, unfortunately for her kids, is a seriously disturbed fundamentalist baptist/christian of some sort.

  7. Although I’m fairly concerned about privacy issues in general, I find it pretty difficult to have much sympathy with this specific case.

    Schools (in the US and elsewhere) have a requirement to show that their students are actually attending for a minimum amount of time in order to receive public funding for those students. This becomes even more pressing for overseas students, whose student visas generally require them to be in school for a certain number of hours a week.

    RFID trackers (which most student cards have installed now, although whether they let you keep them in your wallet and just use them to access buildings / classrooms, or make you wear them on a lanyard, differs from school to school) are the best way of doing this, because they allow a school to include time you spend in the library, meeting teachers, etc. in your “Education Hours”, and stop wasting class time on taking registers (which is impossible in large lecture groups anyway). The data they store is no different to data universities have always stored (registers, library card records, &c.), just easier to collect and more accurate – unless you don’t want your university to know when you’re in class and when you’re not, and can come up with reasonable grounds for why they shouldn’t know, I can’t see how this is a serious privacy concern.

    1. Because free-thinking people do not want to get used to the idea that they’re being tracked by some larger body of power, that’s why. If you get high school kids used to the idea, then as adults they will be used to the idea, too- and eventually, an entire society that can’t even imagine why anyone would have a problem with an institution holding such vast amounts of information about the whereabouts and patterns of every individual member. 

      If schools are being forced to track kids in this way to get funded, then the answer lies in changing this requirement, which is inherently wrong, rather than in persecuting the kids who refuse to play along. 

          1.  No, but the way schools treat them is pretty much like cattle. Sit in this barn for a bit, then move through these pathways to this other barn. The only reason teachers don’t have cattle prods to clear the hallways is because it’s illegal.

      1. This is what’s killing me here.  RFID badges must be expensive!  In order for it to be financially reasonable there must be some pretty draconian funding policies.  The solution is to change the funding to make the RFID chips a silly expense. 

    2. Why stop there?
      Surely attaching cameras to all of the students would impact their ability to lie to teachers about drug taking and violence at the school, not to mention the efficacy of giving the children free access to a dedicated communications service and encouraging them to denounce bad behaviour by their fellow students.
      Perhaps the segregation of different ‘types’ of student into more homogenous and therefore more manageable groups could help with the education process.
      I can’t think why it wouldn’t be a good idea to at least attempt the nullification of dangerous personal affiliations as well as the proper management of the availability of their artistic and scientific education would in fact make them much more malleable and docile.
      Heck, with a stringently enforced regime of hallucinogenics and sub torture scenarios, they might never get into trouble for the rest of their life, let alone school attendance.

  8. Yeah, just keep breaking it.  Over and over and over.  Just imagine…

    “Sure, I’ll wear it.”

    “OK. Thanks for being a trooper”

    “You mean it doesn’t work in the pool?”

    “Be careful!”

    “Sorry, I laundered it.”

    “We need to to think about this more carefully.”

    “Oh, I’m thinking about it all right. Trust me.”

    “My Dad’s transmitter made it glow”

    “You have a transmitter!”

    “Doesn’t everybody?”



    “That’s not appropriate”

    “But they are losers, all the cool kids have transmitters!”

    “This is the last time”

    “Ok. I’ll pay really close attention”

    “This time it was the dog, I swear!”

    “That’s it! You are going to get suspended!”

    “Hey, it’s not like I can control the dog”

    “Wear it at all times! It’s valuable, keep it safe!”

    “Really! What’s it worth? Can I get a game for it?”

    “What about the shower? Isn’t that weird? Do you wear yours nude? Can I see?”

    “Not that kind of valuable. It’s important to us.”

    “Aren’t I important?”
    (copied from a little forum I frequent)

    Give them a royal headache, and invite friends.

    1. Sure wish people would get this organized and do something about classes of 35+ kids, no textbooks, no supplies, and iffy air conditioning in a desert environment.

      But by all means, let’s pick this.

      1.  It’s not mutually exclusive.  Ongoing advocacy on education issues is needed on a number of fronts.

        But, the story today is creepy tracking, and I commented on the story today, but that doesn’t mean “picking” this.

        Honestly, that’s an expression of what my response at that age would have been like, more than anything else.

        You go ahead though.  I’m quite sure your basic priorities in life are all sorted perfectly.  Admirable.  Really.

  9. I’m just glad RFID technology has arrived- How in the world would the administrators keep track of students without it?!?!

  10. It’s a pretty specific reference to Revelation – “[The Beast] also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark.”  Rev 13:16-17.

    I don’t buy into Revelation, but this is absolutely a sincerely held belief by a lot of Evangelical Christians.  Why folks feel the need to be pure and not use these folks as an assault on RFID tagging of kids is weird to me.  It’s a colorable religious freedom case (probably not a winner given the case law) and ought to be supported, regardless of one’s distaste for this person’s religious beliefs.

    1. “I don’t buy into Revelation, but this is absolutely a sincerely held belief by a lot of Evangelical Christians.  Why folks feel the need to be pure and not use these folks as an assault on RFID tagging of kids is weird to me.”

      Maybe we don’t want to encourage the folks who use those same sincerely held beliefs to oppose marriage equality and reproductive choice for women on the basis that those things also supposedly violate their religious freedoms. We can make the case for privacy without resorting to Bronze Age ramblings.

    2. This is not on any body part at all, much less forehead or right hand. It’s on a piece of plastic on a lanyard around the neck.

      And I’m tired of irrational antique beliefs controlling me and mine.

    3. It’s a pretty specific reference to Revelation

      The Beast in Revelation is the Roman Empire, and the book is anti-imperialist propaganda written in code to avoid arrest and execution.  Her reference to the Mark of the Beast is appropriate and correct.

  11. 1: With little RFID tags, much more than just monitoring arrival and departure is possible, whether by the school or creepy people outside.
    2: Her choice not to wear it based on her religious beliefs doesn’t hurt anyone, so it’s valid.
    3: Don’t teachers LOOK at their students at the beginning of each class period to see if their students are present or not? RFID-tagging seems an expensive an ridiculous solution.

    1.  Good luck keep track of all your students and knowing their faces with budget cuts forcing huge class sizes

      1. Many teachers use seating charts for each class, complete with photos. It’s not that hard, it’s MUCH cheaper, and I guarantee it’s more effective than letting a computer do it. Kids are already outsmarting the system. If teachers actually care about their students’ education, they manage just fine without the technology.

          1. I’m sure someone with a vested interest in selling these systems is driving the change. I guess my last comment made it sound like teachers don’t care, which was unintentional, and generally not true. Teachers work too hard for too little. As a teacher, I would feel as if the system was taking trust and authority away from me, and I’d fight that.

          2. Funny, I wonder if San Antonians (?) would get behind the teachers if they striked for schools to be more progressively funded.  This is Texas after all.

          3.  I’m sure it’s not. These things break/don’t work/don’t work correctly and it makes more work for the teachers to “fix” it instead of just doing it with pen and paper in the first place.

      2.  I taught for 14 years in public schools and now teach at the college level. It’s really not that difficult to take attendance with your eyes and a piece of paper, or have students sign in, or even turn in an assignment a piece of paper with their signature on it each day. The closest I’ve ever come to anything like this was with a large musical ensemble of 250+ people (marching band); we did ID swiping for attendance, which required the student to physically come to a person and hand them their ID to be scanned (in other words, you can’t turn over a friend’s ID to be scanned so they don’t actually have to show up). But that seems different to me because it requires an action on the part of the student and not simply being passively tracked.

        and yes, I knew all 250+ of those kids’ names. It’s not hard if you put in the effort. (When I taught elementary school, I had 800 students total. I knew all their names too.)

  12. Am I the only one that see’s that old biblical thing about the mark of the beast as making a certain amount of secular sense – in so much as  it is a warning against a certain kind of behaviours that are a really really bad idea, socially speaking?

    What needs to change here is the way governments fund schools, not that citizens have to accommodate  technology that tracks their movement.

    1.  Sometimes paranoia from one direction creates behaviour that makes sense from another direction. In this case, the Gov’s ability to track people could get copied by business, or organised criminals who want to track and kidnap someone rich/their kids.

  13. What other commenters have said, more or less: what happened to simply taking roll in class? I understand that school funding is based on attendance and while there may be a better way to manage that, how much did the RFID system cost? Vs, say, paper and pencil?

    Unlike Cory, I don’t see this as “prisoner-style” but as inventory control. If the public schools want to fix something, getting away from the standardized manufacturing mindset would be a good place to start. This kind of efficiency-based management has been undermining public education since the end of the Progressive era, right around 100 years. Standardization, repetition, larger classes/fewer teachers, fewer options for students and families, it all ties back to penny pinching by people who don’t see the value of education behind the basic skills required to get a job. The attendance-based revenue model is just one more piece of it.

    1. They are bemoaning how they do not have enough money for the school…
      1 simple question…
      How the hell did they pay for this state of the art system?
      Maybe instead of buying expensive solve it all toys they should fire the moron who thought this was a great use of their limited dwindling resources, or the one who signed a contract to get a “free” system.

      1. Actually, pennies for an RF chip is far less expensive than paying people with Master’s degrees $60,000+ per year to do this part of the job.

        Never mind the paper passes, filing, color-coding, indexing, posting, gathering, summing, calling to check for errors.

        This is the same tech that stores use to track $10 inventory items, so it’s cheap and proven.

        1. Sure, the chips themselves are cheap.  Dotting the campus with sensors (and wiring them all up to a central system) has got to be another matter entirely, however.

        2. And how much is the contract to monitor the system as they can’t do it themselves.
          How much is the maintenance program?

          1. The monitoring is probably cheap/free as part of their student data system.  I wouldn’t imagine the program is expensive beyond the initial install.

          2. It appears to be a system run by AT&T, you remember them they have been handed a portion of 5 billion dollars to bring the information superhighway to us… we still rate really low for net speeds and high for costs for what we get.
            Corporations exist to make money, not to offer low cost effective service.

      2. There’s always money for surveillance. Who contributes more to the politicians who make the rules? This girl’s parents or the companies that make surveillance equipment?

        1. As a general rule schools have a much easier time getting funding for one-off equipment purchases and facilities improvements. Very frequently that sort of funding is received simultaneously with cuts to budgets for staff to maintain, or even use, the very equipment they’ve just purchased.

  14. Silly RFID tags things aside, I think what we have here is a problem with the basic system. This is being done to maintain funding, yes? Why is the funding in jeopardy? or rather why is the system set up in such a way that the funding can be in jeopardy in the first place? Should not the only thing determining a school’s budget be the literal number of students? Any other system screams inneficciency to me, and leads to costly measures like what we see here.

    1.  Texas school funding is a mess. Each school gets money per student and attendance taking is deadly serious. Because we don’t have a state income tax, we use our property taxes for funding. Municipalities with more expensive housing thus have better, or at least better funded, school systems, which amounts to the same thing. Then the state passed a law that all the schools called “Robin Hood” that tried to equalize funding that took money from wealthier districts and redistributed it. The state got sued by the wealthier school districts.

      The state lottery got instituted because it was touted as a source of school funding, which never happened. Then the legislature put some arcane funding in place that I don’t understand, mostly because I haven’t tried, and because we’re a red state and have no real money, all the school districts are out of money. Year before last one of our wealthier districts in DFW pink-slipped over 300 teachers in March for the next year. The district I work for has a meeting with us every winter to say “sorry, no raises, class sizes will go up and this is a graph of how much money we haven’t got, thanks very much.”

      tl;dr, Texas is out of money and doesn’t doesn’t distribute what little we have very well.

      1. Same horrible property tax system here. Wealthy kids get fancy well appointed schools, everyone else gets the shaft.

  15. To those who thought it was just when you arrived and left…
    “The 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.”

    Yeah NO possible way for this to go poorly.

    “The district, in a letter last week to the family, said it would allow her to continue attending the magnet school with “the battery and chip removed.” But the girl’s father, Steve Hernandez, said the district told him that the offer came on the condition that he must “agree to stop criticizing the program and publicly support it,” a proposition the father told WND Education that he could not stomach.”

    Our program is super important, but we’ll carve out a secret exception for you if you shut up and tell everyone how wonderful this is.

    “But 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.
    “What we have found, they are there, they’re in the building and not in their chairs. They are in the cafeteria, with counselors, in stairwells or a variety of places, some legitimately and some not,” district spokesman Pascual Gonzalez said in a telephone interview. “If they are on campus, we can legally count them present.””


    So screw them if they aren’t in the classroom, bleeding on a stairway… they were in the building pay us!

  16. Some clarification from reading more in depth coverage of this case:
    1: The RFID system being implemented is to replace an already existing student ID card system, which this student apparently had no problem with, so the issue must be with the RFID chip itself.
    2. The case is being handled by an advocate/lawyer type who claims to have been handling these kinds of cases for 40 years (?) and jumps from one hyperbolic statement to another without seeming to have any kind of logical argument to make
    3. The school district already has a perfectly good manual system to keep track of their students and are bemoaning the loss of about 2 million a year in potential funding due to absenteeism. From this I assume they see the RFID system as somehow coercing students to attend more often, though they might better spend the money finding out why they don’t want to attend and making the system more attractive/relevant.
    4. The student was offered the option of replacing her current card with a new one that does not contain a chip but for some reason this is not addressed by her representative and begs the question as to what her religious objection might be –  the newness? Her privacy concern seems to have been addressed by this offer.

    What this smells like is an opportunist taking advantage of a naive girl with the goal of self-aggrandizement or just general narcissism

    1. 4. The bar code. If she is a zealous/observant Christian she will not wear a bar code.

      Many advocates and lawyers employ hyperbolic language and aggrandizing statements because really, do I care? No, I don’t care about this girl’s dilemma, but I don’t like the attitude that tells us tagging & tracking is necessary for X (read as any) reason, compulsory and that failure to comply will threaten access to public education.

      Whether it is because of “predators”, absenteeism, funding or anything else, the mindset that makes this possible is the problem and putting up with it buys into the problem. Thereby anything that draws attention to it is of interest esp. someone resisting it, for whatever reason, esp. her right to both her religious observation and public education.

        1. I have missed all sermons to date even if I was there 

          and do not remember it from my time reading the Bible because I didn’t finish, too dry, poorly written, (do not buy) Revelations is the last book of the New Testament.

          I expect I learned about that portion of Revelations from a pop culture book or movie.

    2. The school district already has a perfectly good manual system to keep track of their students and are bemoaning the loss of about 2 million a year in potential funding due to absenteeism.

      I’m so old, I remember when you were assigned to go to something called a “home room” during the “first period” of school, and when school started, they did this really antiquated ritual called “taking attendance.”

      1. The comment above says it all to me: students are on campus but not in class.  With the RFID they can count them as there, even though they aren’t in class, which old fashioned attendance wouldn’t catch.  This is ridiculous and stupid, who cares if they are there if they aren’t in class?  But, more to the point, why is the school being punished financially because teenagers skip school?  

    3. In answer to #4 from what I posted before, the nonworking card came with a demand –
      “agree to stop criticizing the program and publicly support it,”
      Her father said No.

        1. See even Mikey likes it, embrace invasive monitoring and tell everyone how much you like it after we quietly slipped you out of the system.

  17. It wouldn’t do all the controlling that the school evidently wants to do, but my first thought was to anonymise the system: each student takes a random RFID chip every morning from the big bin by the front doors, and chucks it back in the bin at the end of the day.  All the RFIDs can be tracked individually [to whatever level of detail the system is capable of], and no individual student’s privacy is violated.

    1. If the students’ privacy isn’t being violated, they won’t do it – what’s in it for them if they can’t be caught and punished when they fail to comply?

      Besides, “the student who has English 10 with Mr. Vankowski in first period, Math 10 with Ms. Smith in second period (etc.)” is not going to be hard to identify.

    2.  How about taking the chip and leaving it in your locker (or in a tree or some other convenient hiding place) and head for the beach? Does the chip follow students from class to class?
      I say cutting class and/or ditching school is not a crime. The onus of how the schools are funded should not be put on the students daily attendance nor should the students be treated like criminals as a way of funding schools. This is sick.

      1.  The students are required to wear them around their necks (great fashion statement!) so that they are visible. I would imagine that a student caught not wearing their tag would receive some form of punishment.

  18. We already track kids in schools, and we’ve done it for decades.

    There’s a paperwork trail for every move a child makes in school. When you show up in class, attendance is taken. Every time you go to a new class, the teacher will/is supposed to take attendance for that class period. If you school lets you leave campus, your school not only knows when you left the property, but they when you got back.

    Every single minute you spend on school grounds is accounted for. This has been the case for a LONG time.

    So why the sudden outcry when, instead of doing it on paper, it’s done electronically? Hell, this will actually save teachers time, since they won’t have to do a headcount manually. They’ll have more time to actually do their jobs and TEACH.

    And no, I don’t buy the “it’s training them to be obedient” argument, because if you take issue with this because of that, you should have been protesting standard school practices years ago. Training kids to sit still and quietly while we write down their names in the official log-book strikes me as exactly the same kind of psuedo-Orwellian fear material as screaming about training our children to accept being tracked by machines, and it’s just as silly. Slippery slopes like this are only slippery if you jump off them ass-first and glide down them like a slip-n-slide. This isn’t an escalation of training at all, because the form is exactly the same; only the fine details are different.

    The only difference between this and existing practices is that batteries are no longer included.

    EDIT: This all is not to say I necessarily think this is a great idea. I don’t think there’s enough benefit to be gained by an electronic system to justify the cost of the system and the materials and the installation. I just think the privacy concerns referenced here are overblown.

    1.  No, the school is a government body. It should not EVER track citizens. It’s a slippery slope. IF you teach the kids it’s OKI to do this BAD behavior, then we all will be TAGGED. It can go into your skin too.. then you can’t disable it. Hmm.. Yeah let’s say NO.  Paper and visual worked just fine for the past 100+ yrs. It’s just as bad with our voting too. I rather have a damn paper trail then the possibility of my vote being switched behind my back.

      1. We’re just going to have to disagree with respect to the duties of a government, because I don’t agree with your premise that it’s never okay for the government to track people (there are plenty of isolated cases where I think it’s reasonable for them to keep track of people; making sure felons don’t violate the terms of their parole is one, and the census is by definition a very coarse form of anonymized tracking) and I personally think the suggestion that school tracking puts a foot in the door for universal tracking is silly.

        1. Felons and parolees -have violated the social contract- and we do have governance for the purpose of tracking those persons, until they are released from such restrictions/requirements. Students by and large have not … been caught, committing felonies, but shall we treat them thus?

          Census are anonymized for several reasons, but that govt. cannot track without the subject having given cause is one.

          Words are. Tracking is different than keeping track of.

          Foot in the door = school, throughout history. If you want current day examples note the concerted efforts of fundamentalist groups to erode the barrier between church & state with the specific tactic of dominating elected & appointed school boards.  

        2. Criminals have done something wrong and therefore are subject to monitoring as a condition of punishment. The majority of students haven’t done anything wrong. I would be okay with “monitoring” a chronically truant student, but not kids who haven’t shown a need for this kind of thing. (Although I bet most “chronically truant” kids will lose/misplace this ID anyway and not really care.)

    2. In the 80’s in Texas we took attendance at the beginning of the day in “homeroom” and that was all. You could still be found out as truant if you were expected in a particular class for a particular reason, like a test or major assignment being due, but there were good odds on not being penalized for skipping school if you attended homeroom attendance. This was HS, in junior or elementary we were divided into “pods” or whatever that school called it and stayed together throughout the day with 2-3 of the same teachers. This eliminated the need for attendance each class period.

      No, in the old systems you were not tracked beyond attendance. If you showed up late you were penalized as tardy, if you were caught truant you were caught truant, but beyond attendance you were not tracked so much as -assigned-, which is altogether different. You were told where to go via schedules and you were required to do so, but not tracked.

      Given that the system in place provides realtime tracking & logging of all RFID holders simultaneously it is wholly different and has different dangers than the old way where the only “danger” or more accurately, drawback, was that it did not prevent or very well detect truancy. 

      In this discussion we must ignore that there are far better ways to keep kids in class, and better reasons than the ones that are used to justify this system.

      This system tells the school where you are, and were, and who you were with too. The fact that the children have no reasonable expectation of privacy, even of association, is little comfort when the real effects of -their knowing of that tracking- will be developed over a 4 year period, or a 12 year period when it trickles down to junior high and elementary.

      IMO, a right-minded person simply knows that outside lawful intervention your associations should be private if you wish them so, even when you are in the charge of another (excluding prison), in order for an individual to develop into a person with the ability to make decisions for themselves that are not shaded by a seemingly inescapable Omniscient authoritative presence.

      That is no way to raise people who shall live in a free society. So shall they?

    3. Traditional attendance records show when a student is in their assigned classrooms.  It appears that this RFID system would also show who you come in contact with, who you hang out with, how often you go to the bathroom, etc.  I think the new level of detail is what bothers a lot of people.

    4.  I’ve got news for you. A kid might not show up for a class or a whole day. Next day he/she returns to class with a pass from the office that confirms a note from said kid’s parent re: illness or whatever. Note written by another student who is good at forgery. Pass cards from the office obtained from other kids who get access to them. Voila! There are ways to beat the system. I should know. Wink, wink, nod, nod. Every minute is not accounted for.

  19. Something like this happened in Greece a few years ago- new machine-readable identity cards were introduced to replace the old paper ones, and somebody noticed that the barcode number on hers contained the sequence 666. The Church was already against the new cards because they didn’t identify the holder’s religion, which the old ones did- so
    the 666 thing was an excuse for religious groups to make more of a fuss by saying that the cards were the Mark of the Beast.

    I think the government ended up having to make sure that no-one’s card had 666 in the number.

  20. I have no idea what the situation is in the US, but in Hong Kong many office workers (especially in large companies) wear a tag around their necks that i) allows access into their building/office, and ii) logs time inside the office. People wear them all day. 

  21. Actually, the privacy concern here is quite serious. Not the tracking component – which is creepy as hell, admittedly, but since the school is responsible /for minors/, the good old “it’s for their own good” argument will no doubt win out there. No, the dangerous part is that the number is based on the social security number – and RFID chips are incredibly insecure. “and wear it around your neck” means it can’t be stored in a protective wallet. That’s a recipe for identity theft right there. (Consider this an abbreviation for a big fat rant about how so many companies and organizations using social security numbers is incredibly stupid for identity security, and the government should, accordingly, forbid it. But that goes several iterations of double for “…in an RFID chip”.)

    Sure, as kids they haven’t got access to credit, but all you need to do is wait a year or two…. a brand new 18 year old applying for credit cards and maybe a car loan? and then spending on frivolous stuff? that won’t even trigger banks’ usual “oh hey maybe it’s identity theft” flags.

    1. But its only based on, and I am sure the school us using state of the art security methodologies… like Sony used.
      In earlier coverage of thie story on Wired they talked about, IIRC, AT&T making the pitch for the system… how much access does the 3rd party vendor get to have?

    2.  Unless they’ve changed things radically since I was a grunt, the military uses your social security number as your serial number. Hell, right now, I’m looking at the case of my guitar, which I shipped back to Germany from the Middle East and it has my full name, social security number and unit written in sharpie on some duct tape in HUGE LETTERS. We all did it and while I’m still in contact with at least 50 people I was in service with, none of us know of anyone whose identity has been stolen on the basis of putting their social security number out there in the public eye.

      That’s not to say that it isn’t possible, just highly unlikely as who the hell would want to steal the identity of a school student? And why? While there may be some valid concerns here, although I’m not seeing them, identity theft really shouldn’t be one of them.

  22. The problem is that schools in America get funding based on asses in seats regardless of the student’s experience in said seat.  This means that the whole system treats students as *products* when the school is in fact providing a *service*.  This is why the service is crap, because all High School diplomas are treated as equal successes so far as funding is concerned when the reality is that not all High school experiences are qualitatively equal.

    I reiterate, America’s schools treat students as industrial products. They are not designed to grow the student to his or her fullest potential.

    (edit). I’m not blaming the teaching staff. This has nothing to do with the teachers and has everything to do with how the system is set up to deliver funds to schools.

    1. There are many that see the current compulsory schooling system as just that, a system that stamps out product (cogs for the consumerist machine). One interesting place to look is in the writings of John Taylor Gatto, a retired teacher of around 30 years.

  23. Cmahn, just nuke the thing and get all your friends to nuke theirs and DENY EVERYTHING.  It’ll cost them so much to deal with the continual mess, they will eventually realize it’s a terrible idea.

    You might as well get used to scan cards, because any job at any company bigger than 20 people has ID cards and door scanners.

  24. I never thought I’d say this, but Thank God for Crazy, Stubborn, Fundamentalists.  

    Fighting for our civil liberties.  Wow.  What a day.

  25. FWIW: Im not religious at all and I find this disturbing. Is taking roll call that difficult? We had assigned seats in classes and roll call took about 30 seconds. So the money for all this RFID equipment is worth not losing a few seconds at the start of class? Or take roll while students are working on something w/o direct instruction…

    What am I missing here? I know this is not how the law works, but I would like to know why the school believes that this RFID is necessity – and justify the coffers argument – when there are alternatives.

  26. I was raised in Dallas, and I still live in Texas. When I was in school, our teachers took attendance at the beginning of class, usually facilitated by a seating chart so they would know who was there and who wasn’t at a glance. My mom is a teacher (and a damned fine one, at that) and she takes attendance this way. In high school, our campus was rather sprawling, and it was easy for students to skip off campus between classes. HOWEVER, our teachers always took attendance at the beginning of class. I don’t see why the San Antonio school doesn’t just do the same thing, instead of investing a bunch of taxpayer money on fancy electronics that people find offensive. Paper, pen, seating chart: BAM.

    I’m not religious by any stretch of the imagination, but I have been surrounded my whole life by peers who have deeply held religious beliefs. And this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of someone refusing a mandatory form of identification because they believe it could be “The Mark of the Beast.” I remember, as a sophomore in high school, having a conversation with a friend whose family – and many of their fellow church-goers – believed that the US government would require everyone to have an identity card to be carried with them all the time, and that mandatory government IDs could be “The Mark of the Beast.”

    While I disagree with their theories on what the IDs “mean”, I defend their right to believe in those theories. As an atheist who has been persecuted for her religious beliefs in a “Christian”-majority state (by hypocrites who forget that whole “love thy neighbor” thing), I will defend anyone’s right to their beliefs, so long as their beliefs do not infringe on my rights.

  27. To my ears her religious reasoning sounds on par with any other third world Vodoo, but that’s really here nor there.  The purpose for protecting privacy is really for whatever reason one chooses, religious beliefs included.  The only sad part here is that one shouldn’t have to resort to appealing to a religious majority in order to be entitled to privacy in the first place.  

  28. They are replacing a head count each class with technology. In other words, even though the proven method of taking attendance has been part of each class for decades or more, this school decided to spend money, it says it does not have, in order to prove attendance, it is already capable of proving, with the hope that doing so will increase their funding.
    The religious nut-job is a red herring. Either the school board is incompetent and has displayed amazingly poor fiscal decision making ability or the stated reason for these RFID trackers is not the real reason they want them.

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