Some Schools Now Track Students Like Prisoners

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Few students and parents are upset by the use of tracking devices on students.

Published on November 14, 2012 by Peter Gray in Freedom to Learn

The opening of schools in San Antonio this fall brought a flurry of news reports about the new ID badges that all students at John Jay High and Anson Jones Middle School are required to wear.  The badges contain radio frequency chips, which allow school officials to monitor the kids’ movements anywhere in the school building or on school grounds.  A handful of parentsand students were irate; the same technology used to track cattle and prisoners was now being used to track students.

Much of the media attention centered on John Jay sophomore Andrea Hernandez, who had the gall to refuse to wear the new badge.  She citedreligious grounds—it’s “the mark of the beast”—and also made the curious claim that she has something called “a right to privacy.”[1] Hernandez is apparently creating quite a problem for the school officials, so they are doing what they can to create problems for her.  They have threatened her by saying that without the new chip she won’t have access to the school cafeteria or library, won’t be able to buy tickets to extracurricular events, and (heaven forbid) won’t be able to vote for homecoming king and queen.

When Hernandez refused to wear the chip despite these threats, Deputy School Superintendent Ray Galindo issued a statement to the girl's parents: “If she is allowed to forego the tracking now, the repercussions will be harsher than just revoking voting rights for homecoming contests once the school makes location-monitoring mandatory. … I urge you to accept this solution so that your child’s instructional program will not be affected. As we discussed, there will be consequences for refusal to wear an ID card as we begin to move forward with full implementation.”[2]

John Jay and Anson Jones aren’t the only nor the first schools to use tracking technology on students.[3]  An elementary school in California tried such a program in 2005, but then dropped it when the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to fight it.  In 2010, the Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania began watching students at home as well as in school with spyware inserted into school-issued laptops, which sent images from the computer’s webcam to the school server every 15 seconds.  The practice became controversial when one student was disciplined at school for “improper behavior in his home.”  The Spring school district in Houston and the Santa Fe district just outside of Houston began tracking students in 2010. In nine schools in Austin, students charged with truancy are forced, like prisoner’s on parole, to wear GPS tracking devices everywhere and report regularly to a “mentor.” When the “Student Locator Project” in San Antonio is in full swing it is expected to track the movements of nearly 100,000 students in 112 schools.

A few students, a few parents, and sometimes the ACLU get upset by all this, but most people do not.  Most people realize that this is not a big step beyond what we already accept to be normal practice.

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