Garcia ruled that Northside Independent School District
is within its rights to transfer Hernandez from Jay High School, a magnet school
for science and engineering to her neighborhood, Taft High School, where the RFID badge i
s not required.
Magnet schools are schools with special courses or curricula. The schools draw students from across several school zones hence the term "magnet". The RFID system
is described as follows:
"The RFID Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is the use of a wireless non-contact system that uses radio-frequency electromagnetic fields to transfer data from a tag attached to an object, for the purposes of automatic identification and tracking. "
The system is widely used to track items moving through warehouses, to identify pets or livestock by embedding chips under the skin, in tracking prisoners, and numerous other uses.
The Hernandez lawsuit sought an injunction that would allow her to continue to attend the school without wearing the RFID identification badge. I find the case rather unfortunate in that the school district had agreed to allow her to wear the badge but without the chip. The judge found that this accommodation was sufficient and that Hernandez should have been satisfied. The article does not make the details clear but I believe that the school officials also said as part of the agreement Hernandez would not further protest the program and agree to support it. See this earlier Digital Journal
article. Hernandez' original refusal
argued that being forced to wear the badge violated her constitutional rights and religious beliefs.
After Hernandez refused to accept the school board's accommodation, the NISD assigned her to Taft High School, her neighborhood school. The NISD board
"Today's court ruling affirms NISD's position that we did make "reasonable accommodation” to Andrea's religious concerns. The family now has the choice to accept the accommodation and stay at the magnet program, or return to her home campus."
While the school board did make accommodations in this individual case, everyone else remains in the situation where they are subject to intrusive surveillance. ACLU analyst Jay Stanley puts the matter in perspective:
"We don't want to see this kind of intrusive surveillance infrastructure gain inroads into our culture. We should not be teaching our children to accept such an intrusive surveillance technology."
The system in used by the division to ensure that students are in class and not elsewhere in the school when attendance is taken. State funding is based upon attendance. Even though the system is itself expensive, officials say that the improved attendance pays off. Officials also claim that the program allows them to find students quickly in emergency situations as well, contributing to student safety. As often is the case, privacy invasion is justified by security considerations, even though this program is all about getting more money for the division. Superintendent Brian Woods
said of the program:
“In today's climate, one would be hard pressed to argue that the safety and security of the children and educators in our public school system is not a compelling governmental interest. One could envision many different methods of ensuring safety and security in schools, and the requirement that high school students carry a uniform ID badge issued for those attending classes on campus is clearly one of the least restrictive means available.”
Two districts in the Houston area have used the technology for several years and claim to have gained hundreds of thousands in revenues. No doubt the company that makes the tags and equipment also increased revenues. The Hernandez family associate the ID badge with the mark of the beast referred to in the Bible. This probably weakens their case since the courts are not likely to change a program on the basis of a religious belief that is somewhat idiosyncratic. The father, Steven Hernandez
wrote in a letter to the board back on September the 4:
“We firmly believe that it is our Hell Fire Belief that if we compromise our faith and religious freedom to allow you to track my daughter while she is at school it will condemn us to hell."
A widespread movement to stop the spread of this invasive surveillance would probably be the most effective way of preventing its progression to more and more schools.