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Texas Students Forced To Wear Microchips To School

Texas Students Forced To Wear Microchips To School

District officials say it's to ensure proper attendance, critics says it's about the cash

October 15th, 2012 by Daryl Nelson of ConsumerAffairs in News

It's been quite a while since I've wandered the hallways of a middle or high school, which means I'm currently in the dark about some of the methods used today.

Like what's the general rule when it comes to students doing research papers? We had to risk paper cuts on our fingers by thumbing through rows of index cards in library draws, and today kids are able to Google any topic they would like to assist with research.

And cell phones -- how successful are teachers in competing with them for the student's attention, especially with their ability to covertly text and phone each other?

Also, in a day when most things are done digitally, do students still have to carry paper hall passes to use the bathroom or go to another part of the school?   

Well, that last question has been answered by a Texas school district, as students will be made to carry microchips in ID cards so their whereabouts before and during school can be tracked by administrators.

The new tracking program will use a radio frequency identification system (RFID), and at least 100,000 students will tote chip imbedded ID badges in San Antonio, Houston and Austin. Apparently, the school districts' reason to use these microchip IDs is a two-pronged one.

Wanting to keep students totally accounted for is the first and obvious reason school officials went forward with the new tracking program, which began Oct 1. But also, kids missing school and skipping class has been a steady problem in many states, and it hurts the amount of funding schools are able to get.

So, officials believe they can keep students at their desks, while also improving the districts' chances of getting heftier funding.

Critics object

It's not hard to believe that critics of the student tracking system are completely up in arms, as it's difficult for people not to react when they hear the word microchip.

Between the George Orwell fans of his 1984 book, Bible readers who have been anticipating a "mark of the beast" chip, or just parents who believe their children's whereabouts shouldn't be tracked by a computer system, it may be surprising to some that the new program actually saw the light of day.  

Previously, we ran a story about a Michigan school district's use of something called ZPass, where students swipe a card when boarding the school bus.

Although ZPass also uses a tracking technology to tally students, it only tracks them when they're on the school bus. But the students in Texas will be tracked all day -- whether in the hallways, during recess, in the locker room, while using the bathroom or any other place they go during the school day.

If students don't bring their ID badges to school each day, they'll be unable to take out library books, use the card to get lunch, or be allowed to participate in school activities. Officials believe the impact that microchip cards will have on attendance and safety, will soon be widely appreciated by many of those currently in opposition.  

"Parents expect that we always know where their children are, and this technology will help us do that," said Pascual Gonzalez, district spokesman in an interview earlier this year. "This way we can see if a student is at the nurse's office or elsewhere on campus."

Health risks

Many groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, have expressed strong opposition to the RFID system, and say it not only could add an unnecessary amount of tension to students, but it could also be hazardous to their health.

"RFID systems emit electromagnetic radiation, and there are lingering questions about whether human health might be affected in environments where the reading devices are pervasive," read an opposition paper that was signed by several privacy groups. "This concern and the dehumanizing effects of ubiquitous surveillance may place additional stress on students, parents and teachers."

And privacy groups aren't the only ones in opposition, as many students have rebelled against the tracking program by not bringing their badges to school. The IDs have to be worn on lanyards so they're visible, say officials.

Whether the Texas tracking program will go beyond the trial phase and spread to other parts of the U.S. is yet to be determined, but if the current times are able to predict the future, it's a pretty safe bet that students and other people will continue to be tracked under the guise of safety and security.

And when school attendance is attached to school funding, it would be a challenge for districts not to incorporate an RFID tracking program, or some other invasive tactic to ensure students show up to class so the district gets its money from the state. Oh, and of course, the school districts want the students to get the benefit of being in class, right?