A U.S. District judge ruled this week that a Texas school can put locator chips on its students -- and expel those who don’t comply.
In the controversial ruling, District Judge Orlando Garcia said San Antonio Northside School District was within its rights to kick sophomore Andrea Hernandez out of Jay High School. The 15-year-old refused to wear the device, which has become mandatory since last fall for all students while on school property.
HLN wrote about the school district's plans last summer, along with the blogosphere's reaction to it, in which many viewed the new ID badges embedded with radio frequency identification (RFID) chips as an affront to privacy. School officials said the devices would help to keep tabs on troublesome students and help identify which students were cutting class and so on. There is also a financial incentive to use the devices: School revenue is reportedly determined in part by attendance rolls – something the ID badges are designed to track.
A statement forwarded Thursday to HLN from Pascual Gonzalez, the executive director of communications for the school district, said the ruling comes months after the school had done all it could to work with the student.
The ruling “affirms NISD's position that we did make reasonable accommodation to the student by offering to remove the RFID chip from the student's smart ID badge. The student had voiced religious objection to the use of RFID technology.”
“The family now has the choice to accept the accommodation and stay at the magnet program or return to her home campus at the start of the second semester, Jan 22, 2013,” Gonzalez said.
Internet forums and comments on social media sites have called the RFID program part of “the mark of the beast,” a biblical reference. Hernandez has cited her religious beliefs as a reason for her refusal to wear the chip, which is a replacement for the school’s ID badge.
Hernandez said weeks after the RFID program was instituted she faced consequences from the school.
“When I went to cast my vote for homecoming king and queen I had a teacher tell me I would not be allowed to vote because I did not have the proper voter ID,” she told WND.
“I had my old student ID card, which they originally told us would be good for the entire four years we were in school. He said I needed the new ID with the chip in order to vote.”
Read more: Oh, Brother? School to track kids with chips
Attorneys for the Virginia-based Rutherford Institute, a conservative policy center that advocates for civil liberties, have filed an appeal for the teenager, saying that the school district is in violation of Hernandez’s First and 14th Amendment rights.
“The Supreme Court has made clear that government officials may not scrutinize or question the validity of an individual’s religious beliefs,” John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, said in a press release the group forwarded to HLN.
“By declaring Andrea Hernandez’s objections to be a secular choice and not grounded in her religious beliefs, the district court has placed itself as an arbiter of what is and is not religious. This is simply not permissible under our constitutional scheme, and we will appeal this case all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.”
Update: On Friday, the institute sent HLN a statement, saying, "Andrea’s religious objection derives from biblical teachings that equate accepting a personalized code—as a sign of submission to government authority and as a means of obtaining certain privileges from a secular ruling authority—with a form of idolatry or submission to a false god."
ACLU: Tracking device 'vulnerable to hacking'
Also, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas told HLN that the school district's policy blatantly crosses the line from monitoring kids to outright "stalking".
"We have safety and privacy concerns about use of RFID technology on students in schools," Dotty Griffith, the ACLU's public education director, said in a statement. "The technology was originally designed for shipping goods and cattle, not taking roll at school, thus RFID chips make the perfect stalking device. Because the technology is easy to acquire, it is vulnerable to hacking which could allow someone outside the school to monitor a student’s off-campus whereabouts if they obtained the student’s tracking number."
The issue has spooked privacy advocates and added to an increasing backlash against RDIF devices, which have become commonplace in everything from T-shirts to grocery items.
HLN readers, we want to hear from you: Do you believe the proposed safety and financial benefits outweigh privacy concerns? Share your opinion with us in the comments.