On The Front Lines
Victory: Court Grants Rutherford Institute Request to Stop Texas School from Kicking Student Out for Refusing to Wear “Smart ID” Tracking Badge
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — A district court judge for Bexar County, Texas, has granted The Rutherford Institute’s request for a temporary restraining order to prevent Northside Independent School District from removing a San Antonio high school student from John Jay High School’s Science and Engineering Academy because she objected 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. For sophomore Andrea Hernandez, the badges pose a significant religious freedom concern in addition to the obvious privacy issues. In coming to Andrea’s defense, Rutherford attorneys filed a petition for a temporary restraining order and immediate injunctive and declaratory relief alleging 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. A hearing on the preliminary injunction will take place next week.
“The court’s willingness to grant a temporary restraining order is a good first step, but there is still a long way to go—not just in this case, but dealing with the mindset, in general, that everyone needs to be monitored and controlled,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “Regimes in the past have always started with the schools, where they develop a compliant citizenry. These ‘Student Locator’ programs are ultimately aimed at getting students used to living in a total surveillance state where there will be no privacy, and wherever you go and whatever you text or email will be watched by the government.”
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 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. Andrea has also been prevented from distributing flyers to fellow students explaining her objections to the program.
Attorney Jerri Lynn Ward is assisting The Rutherford Institute with Andrea’s defense.