SAN ANTONIO, Texas — The Rutherford Institute has come to the defense of a San Antonio high school student who was told that she must wear a name badge containing a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip as part of her school district's new “Student Locator Project.” So small that they are barely detectable to the human eye, RFID tags produce a radio signal by which the wearer’s precise movements can be constantly monitored, raising serious privacy concerns. For Andrea Hernandez, a sophomore at Jay High School, the badges also pose a significant religious freedom concern. In coming to Andrea’s defense, constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead is demanding that school officials accommodate students’ requests to opt out of the surveillance program.
“Once looked to as the starting place for imparting principles of freedom and democracy to future generations, America’s classrooms are becoming little more than breeding grounds for compliant citizens—and these RFID surveillance programs are just the tip of the iceberg,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “Forcing a student to express support for a program she finds repugnant is just as unconstitutional as prohibiting a student from voicing her frustration with that program.”
The Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas, has launched a program, the “Student Locator Project,” aimed ostensibly at increasing public funding for the district by increasing student attendance rates. As part of the pilot program, roughly 4,200 students at Jay High School and Jones Middle School are being required to carry “smart” ID cards embedded with an RFID tracking chip which will actively broadcast a signal at all times. Although the schools already boast 290 surveillance cameras, the cards will make it possible for school officials to track students’ whereabouts at all times. School officials hope to expand the program to the district’s 112 schools, with a student population of 100,000. Although implementation of the system will cost $500,000, school administrators are hoping that if the school district is able to increase attendance by tracking the students’ whereabouts, they will be rewarded with up to $1.7 million from the state government.
High school sophomore Andrea Hernandez, a Christian, expressed her sincere religious objections to being forced to participate in the RFID program. Reportedly, Hernandez was informed by school officials that “there will be consequences for refusal to wear an ID card.” For example, students who refuse to take part in the ID program won’t be able to access essential services like the cafeteria and library, nor will they be able to purchase tickets to extracurricular activities. Hernandez was prevented from voting for Homecoming King and Queen after school officials refused to verify her identity using her old ID card. According to Hernandez, teachers are even requiring students to wear the IDs when they want to use the bathroom. School officials offered to quietly remove the tracking chip from Andrea’s card if the sophomore would agree to wear the new ID without the imbedded RFID chip so as to give the appearance of participation in the Student Locator Project, stop criticizing the program and publicly support the initiative. Hernandez refused the offer. In coming to Hernandez’s defense, Rutherford Institute attorneys point out that by forcing Hernandez to express support for the program, school officials are in direct violation of the First Amendment, as well as Texas statutory law.