Depending on your point of view, RFID technology is either stuff of dystopian fantasy come to life, or a long-overdue improvement made possible by technology. Students at the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas will have plenty of opportunities to decide this issue for themselves as the officials roll out a plan to embed a Radio Frequency Identification System chip into student ID cards in order to track their location throughout the day.
The pilot program will initially take place on only two campuses but if the trial is a success, the district plans to implement it in each of its 112 schools.
According to officials, the RFID chips would not only improve student safety by allowing the schools to find them in an emergency, it will also make attendance taking both automatic and less error-prone. This is an important consideration for districts where funding is allocated based on student attendance numbers.
Northside, the largest school district in Bexar County, plans to modify the ID cards next year for all students attending John Jay High School, Anson Jones Middle School and all special education students who ride district buses. That will add up to about 6,290 students.
Although the plan was approved unanimously by the school board last week, many board members expressed reservations about its adoption because of student privacy concerns. The incoming district superintendent Brian Woods, however, defended the RFID chips as a common-sense safety measure akin to security cameras in the schools' hallways. He added that the privacy worries are misplaced since the program is designed to only track students while they are on school grounds.
The sensors installed throughout the school will be able to pick up the radio signals emitted by the RFID chips and the access to the information collected by the sensors will be strictly limited.
"We want to harness the power of (the) technology to make schools safer, know where our students are all the time in a school, and increase revenues," district spokesman Pascual Gonzalez said. "Parents expect that we always know where their children are, and this technology will help us do that."
Parents of the students whose IDs are going to be implanted will get letters home sometime in the next few weeks that lay out the details of the program as well as answer some frequently asked questions about the process. Those interviewed by mySanAntonio.com expressed views that range from enthusiastic approval to anger. Veronica Valdorrinos said that she'd be relieved rather than offended to know that her daughter's location was always visible to school administrators. Ricardo and Juanita Roman, whose daughters attend the same school, John Jay High School said they were suspicious about the district's decision to launch the pilot at their school.
Gonzalez said the district picked schools with lower attendance rates and staff willing to pilot the tags.