San Antonio schools to use scanner technology in student IDs

You can’t run in the hallways. Now you can’t hide in them, either.

The Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas, will embark on an experimental project next year to track thousands of students at two schools by putting scanner chips in their ID cards.

“We want to harness the power of technology to make schools safer, know where our students are all the time in a school, and increase revenues,” district spokesman Pascual Gonzalez told the San Antonio Express-News. “Parents expect that we always know where their children are, and this technology will help us do that.”


Wait — “increase revenues”?

That’s right: The pilot program will cost $525,065 and then $136,005 per year to run, an assistant superintendent for budget and finance told the Express-News, but the school is expected to get $1.7 million next year for higher attendance and Medicaid reimbursements for busing special education students.

As with many schools, part of the Northside Independent School District’s state funding is tied to attendance rates, so those figures mean the school can expect to get more money for monitoring its students.

The technology, known as a Radio Frequency Identification System (RFID), won’t allow administrators to monitor students once they leave campus, and two other schools in San Antonio have reported higher attendance since implementing similar programs, according to the Express-News.

The idea of tracking students is not new. Privacy and civil liberties opponents have opposed this kind of technology all over the nation.

In California in 2005, a similar tracking system caused an uproar at Brittan Elementary School, about 40 miles north of Sacramento, after school officials quietly implemented a home-grown program. The program was quickly withdrawn over questions about health and privacy.

California came to the brink of banning microchip tracking in schools before a veto by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. But a similar tracking program was implemented at a preschool in Richmond, Calif., in 2010, over the protestations of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“While school officials and parents may have been sold on these tags as a ‘cost-saving measure,’ we are concerned that the real price of insecure RFID technology is the privacy and safety of small children,” the ACLU’s Nicole Ozer wrote at the time. “RFID has been billed as a ‘proven technology,’ but what’s actually been proven time and again [PDF] since the ACLU first looked at this issue in 2005 is just how insecure RFID chips can be.” She cited multiple examples of RFID chips that had been hacked.

The Northside Independent School District’s board passed the measure unanimously. Parents’ reactions were mixed; some supportive, some opposed.

“I would hope teachers can help motivate students to be in their seats instead of the district having to do this,” one parent, Margaret Luna, told the News-Express. “But I guess this is what happens when you don’t have enough money.”

Officials told KHOU-11 that students will be able to use their IDs to check out library books and get cafeteria food. If students lose their cards, they will have to pay $15 for replacements, according to the News-Express.

“I’m excited,” Wendy Reyes, principal at Jones Middle School, told KHOU-11. “It’s almost like having a college ID again.”


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