Tracking Students for Profit

Jay High School and Jones Middle School, both within the Northside Independent School District of San Antonio, Texas, are using students as real-life test subjects to test RFID (radio frequency identification) technology. More than 6,000 students are a part of this test. The schools claim that monitoring the students’ locations is both a safety and a school funding issue.

Despite an initial price tag of $525,065 and then $136,005 per year to run the program, the district anticipates an additional $1.7 million in revenue for reduced truancy and Medicaid reimbursements for busing in special education students. Having a headcount each day may help offset State funding cuts, which is partially based on student attendance. Mandating student ID cards be equipped with RFID microchips documents student attendance.

According to Steve Bassett, Northside’s assistant superintendent for budget and finance, “the payoff could be a lot bigger if the program goes district-wide.” He believes “the program was one way the growing district could respond to the Legislature’s cuts in state education funding.” The district cut $61.4 million from its budget last year.

School officials told local news sources that that the RFID micro-chipped student ID cards will be used to check out library books, purchase food in the cafeteria, and will cost a student $15 per replacement card, if misplaced or damaged.

In the view of the parents, staff, students, and teachers who oppose the new practice, tracking and monitoring violates the reasonable privacy expectation and breaches civil liberty rights. One of the main objections is that some consider RFID tracking dehumanizing. It can “monitor how long a student or teacher spends in a bathroom stall.” Teachers also expressed concern that tracking may deter students from visiting a school counselor.

As one student stated, “With a smart phone you can use the option to use your locator, but this, I can’t turn it off.” With her father’s support, she has decided to challenge the district’s plan by wear an older photo ID.

Although the school states that administrators will not be allowed to track student off-campus, according to the ACLU, the RFID chips can be hacked. Unlike GPS tracking systems, which use satellites to locate and monitor objects, RFID technology uses radio waves.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Nicole Ozer, “RFID has been billed as a ‘proven technology,’ but what’s actually been proven time and again since the ACLU first looked at this issue in 2005 is just how insecure RFID chips can be.”

Kirsten Bokenkamp, another ACLU spokesperson listed her concerns about the tracking including privacy and the risks of identity theft or kidnapping if somebody hacks into the system.

The Identity Project and Privacy Activism released a statement that “If schools choose to move forward without complete information and are willing to accept the associated liability, they should have provisions in place to adhere to the principles of fair information practices and respect individuals’ rights to opt out based on their conscientious and religious objections.”

The Northside Independent School District passed the initiative unanimously.

Texas currently has no state law regulating the use of RFID or similar tracking system devices. Each district may draft its own policy.

Sources:, and