High school sophomore Andrea Hernandez and her father, Steven, are continuing their fight against the local school district’s introduction of micro-chipped student IDs that allow schools to track students’ movements. The Northside Independent School District (NISD) in San Antonio tried to kick Andrea out of the John Jay High School Science and Engineering Academy in November after she refused to wear the tracking tag.
At this writing, she is still attending the academy, though this matter is evolving quickly. She may still be allowed to stay in the high school, but removal from the special academy would be detrimental to her education.
Before the move by NISD to expel Ms. Hernandez from the academy, it was unclear how the district would respond to Ms. Hernandez’s highly visible public resistance to the RFID program—which started modestly but soon became a lightning rod to inspire some 300 students in the huge district, in two of its 112 school buildings, to resist the program.
“[She] objects to wearing a name badge signifying participation in the school district’s new Student Locator Project. The badges include tiny Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips that produce a radio signal, enabling school officials to track students’ precise location on school property,” as the Virginia-based Rutherford Institute explained in a news release.
While a Rutherford Institute-assigned attorney was to appear before the Bexar County District Court on Nov. 28 to argue for a preliminary injunction against John Jay High School, “to stop [officials] from essentially expelling [Ms. Hernandez] for her refusal to wear a name badge signifying participation in the school district’s new Student Locator Project,” that hearing did not happen, as the matter was suddenly moved to federal court in San Antonio. The unknown time table will likely be rather slow.
Institute president John Whitehead told this writer on Nov. 28 that while this was indeed a sudden move, it was not necessarily a surprising one. The school district filed a motion to move the matter to federal court because it does not want the same district court to again hear the arguments and rule in Ms. Hernandez’s favor. In a prior hearing on Nov. 21, the court frowned upon the district’s plans to expel her. Another unfavorable ruling Nov. 28 would have been devastating to NISD.
In this unfolding story — which is seen as having far-reaching implications on school districts nationally adopting ever-more sophisticated surveillance technology to convert schools into mini-police states — Ms. Hernandez is being disciplined because she is trying to simply opt out of the program, a “contagious” stance that could inspire students well beyond NISD and beyond Texas itself. Such a contagion is bad for school districts’ carefully crafted public images and hurts the profits of companies supplying such technology.
NISD recently offered to allow the sophomore to wear her ID-badge without a chip, but she and her dad refused, based on their religious beliefs and privacy concerns, and because NISD wanted to require her to still show outward support for a program that she philosophically opposes.
Ms. Hernandez, since the project was implemented at the beginning of this school year, has inspired new state legislation against tracking technology in Texas public schools, even while she has energized hundreds of students from her high school, including some from Anson Jones Middle School, to resist wearing the IDs. And petition signatures against this ID scheme are being gathered, totaling over 700 at this writing.
Yet, legal progress is seen as essential, says Whitehead, who told this writer that what the NISD is doing is just one example of the national trend. “We’re moving into [another] case now in which, for the kids to eat lunch, they have to scan their hands with biometric scanners,” he said, while declining, at this point, to name the district. “This is corporate America fusing with the state.”
That was a reference to companies, such as Wade Garcia of San Antonio, making a financial windfall selling their tracking gadgetry to huge school districts (NISD, in all, has about 100,000 students). NISD spent over $500,000 just to get the RFID program rolling in only two of its buildings, plus install related items in various locations, including in buses. “There are 290 surveillance cameras in that district,” Whitehead said. “The only hope we have is for students everywhere to be able to ‘opt out’ of such programs.”
While no school district can be faulted for the general goal of keeping track of its attendees, the irony is that the more the conversion of schools into near-replicas of low-security prisons is seen as a nifty way to “improve attendance” (and qualify districts for $1.7 million in state grants, as in NISD’s case), the less students will want to attend, to say nothing of academic standards that have fallen so far that an average eighth grader in 1900 could vastly defeat today’s high school graduates in a test of real knowledge.
America is fast earning a reputation for preaching freedom but not practicing it, and even showing hostility toward it, as free-speech zones and constant second-guessing about what the First Amendment means render our rights useless as a practical tool to improve our country. The only thing worse is that US troops believe they are fighting to defend freedom, yet the ultimate triumph of “the terrorists,” whoever they really are, is an America that won’t exercise the very freedoms which we purport to hold so dear that we’ll police the entire world in their “defense.”
While we may hope that is not what our kids are learning, policies like those at NISD send the message that the principles of “basic captivity 101” take precedent over liberty.
Mark Anderson is a veteran journalist who divides his time between Texas and Michigan. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2013
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