Does tracking school children with computer chips make them more safe -- or more vulnerable?
A San Antonio school district has sided with the former, though not without some debate. The end result is that Northside Independent School District will begin the 2012 school year by distributing ID cards enabled with radio frequency identification (RFID) chips throughout three schools and to 6,290 of its students.
The main idea here is to be able to determine where any given student is at any time during the school day. That's the main idea. The other part of this is that it could help the school district net hundreds of thousands -- if not millions -- of additional dollars. But more on that in a moment.
The chips will be able to detect when a student boards a school bus and where in the school they are located, though it won't work outside of school grounds.
"Parents expect that we always know where their children are, and this technology will help us do that," said district spokesman Pascual Gonzalez. "This way we can see if a student is at the nurse's office or elsewhere on campus." The San Antonio Express-News reports that Gonzalez also said the only people who can access the tracking data will be school administrators.
The ACLU, though, has previously voiced strong objections to chipping students, pointing out that these "insecure" card readers have been copied "with a handheld device the size of a standard cell phone that was built using spare parts costing $20." Equipped with one, they argue, it would be simple for someone to track a student. The group says an even larger concern is that chips could also be copied, allowing would-be kidnappers to take a child off campus while the duplicate chip continues to tell RFID readers that the child is safely at school."
Scary stuff. But a blogger over at Babble thinks these fears are a bit extreme. "God knows I’m one of the most nervous moms around, but even I’m not convinced that utilizing high-tech ID cards is going to trigger a rash of kidnappings," writes Joslyn Gray. "It’s not like they’re implanting a chip into the kids’ necks, like something out of 'X-Files.' It’s a chip in an ID card, just like those used by businesses."
Gray adds that "privacy is all well and good until you want to know where your kid is."
So what about those parents whose children will now be part of the district's pilot program? One mom told the Express-News, "I would hope teachers can help motivate students to be in their seats instead of the district having to do this. But I guess this is what happens when you don't have enough money."
Aah, right -- the money.
Because state funding is partly based on attendance, the school district also stands to make quite a bit of cash by tracking students. No small deal in a district which the News-Express reports had to cleave $61 million from their budget last year. According to the paper, "Northside would get $1.7 million next year from both higher attendance and Medicaid reimbursements for bussing special education students."
And that's just with implementing the program in three schools. In all, there are 112 schools in the district.
The program will reportedly cost $525,065 to roll out and then $136,005 annually to support. Officials believe if it's successful, it will pay for itself in a very short time.
Do you believe the proposed safety and financial benefits outweigh privacy concerns? With school funds being slashed across the nation, are these the types of options they need to be exploring? Share your opinion with us in the comments.