On The Front Lines
Sidestepping State Court Hearing, School Officials File for Removal to Federal Court in Case of High Schooler Forced to Wear “Smart ID” Tracking Badge
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — In a move aimed at sidestepping a potentially unfavorable state court hearing in the case of a high school student kicked out of a magnet school for objecting to a school-mandated RFID tracking badge, Texas officials have filed a motion to have the case removed from state court to federal court. Attorneys for the Rutherford Institute were scheduled to appear before the Bexar County District Court on November 28, 2012 at 9AM CST in favor of a preliminary injunction against John Jay High School to stop them from essentially expelling Andrea Hernandez for her refusal to wear 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. For sophomore Andrea Hernandez, the badges pose a significant religious freedom concern in addition to the obvious privacy issues. Last week, District Court Judge Solomon Casseb granted The Rutherford Institute’s request for a temporary restraining order in the case, ordering school officials to allow Andrea to return to school on Monday, Nov. 26. In coming to Andrea’s defense, Rutherford attorneys have alleged that the school’s actions violate Andrea’s rights under Texas’ Religious Freedom Act and the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
“I think it’s unfortunate that these school officials are determined to continue to violate Andrea Hernandez’ constitutional rights, but their actions clearly show that what is motivating them has little to do with their students’ best interests and everything to do with fattening their coffers,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “At stake in this case are core constitutional values: the freedom of religion, the right to privacy, and the right to be treated fairly in our society.”
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 wear “SmartID” card badges 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 on campus 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, conventional student 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. Andrea refused this offer.
Affiliate attorney Jerri Lynn Ward is assisting The Rutherford Institute with Andrea’s defense.