Northside School District officials in San Antonio have approved a plan to track students’ whereabouts on two of its campuses—John Jay High School and Anson Jones Middle School—through the use of technology implanted in their student identification cards. If the program proves successful, it could be expanded to all 112 campuses tracking over 100,000 students.
“We want to harness the power of the technology to make schools safer, know where our students are all the time in school, and increase revenues,” district spokesman Pascual Gonzalez said to the San Antonio Express-News. “Parents expect that we always know where their children are, and this technology will help us do that.”
Officials hope that by tracking students using Radio Frequency Identification System (RIFD) tags in ID cards, they will be able to increase school attendance and ultimately increasing their budget.
While the program will cost $525,065 to implement and then $136,005 per year to run, the district is anticipating an additional $1.7 million for higher attendance and Medicaid reimbursements for busing for special education students. However, that payoff would be much larger if the program is expanded district wide.
The chip readers will track students’ whereabouts on campus and on school buses, but cannot track them once they leave school property.
“This way we can see if a student is at the nurse's office or elsewhere on campus, when they normally are counted for attendance in first period,” Gonzalez said.
While the school board unanimously approved the plan, it was not without heated debate and reservations from parents. Some parents worried about their child’s privacy. However, the district assured them that only authorized school officials would have access to their students information.
“I would hope teachers can help motivate students to be in their seats instead of the district having to do this,” Margaret Luna, whose eighth-grade granddaughter at Jones will go to Jay next year, told the San Antonio Express-News. “But I guess this is what happens when you don't have enough money.”
Northside School District isn’t the first school district to implement a student tracking program. Two districts in Houston—Santa Fe and Spring—have had tracking programs in place for two years and have reported hundreds of thousands of dollars in added revenue.
However, similar programs have been implemented in California and ended up quickly being pulled after protests from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and parents caused an uproar over health and privacy concerns.
“While school officials and parents may have been sold on these tags as a ‘cost-saving measure,’ we are concerned that the real price of insecure RFID technology is the privacy and safety of small children,” Nicole Ozer, an ACLU spokesperson wrote about the tracking system at the time. The ACLU has yet to get fully involved in the Northside School District program, but is looking into it.
The cards at John Jay High School, Anson Jones Middle School will also double as a library card and lunch card, and students will be required to pay $15 if the card is lost.
Nancy Swanson is a writer for 360 Education Solutions