Oct 112010
 October 11, 2010  Posted by  Featured News, Surveillance, Youth & Schools

Jennifer Radcliffe of the Houston Chronicle reports that RFID tags for tracking students is in use the Spring and Santa Fe school districts.

Spring has been steadily expanding the system since December 2008. Currently, about 13,500 of the district’s 36,000 students have the upgraded badges, which are just slightly thicker than the average ID tag to allow for the special chip.

Chip readers placed strategically on campuses and on school buses can pick up where a student is – or at least where they left their badge. The readers cannot track students once they leave school property, said Christine Porter, Spring’s associate superintendent for financial services.

Okay, you think, it’s not that bad, right? But what is the impact on students psychologically? Radcliffe has some interesting quotes from students:

“It feels like someone’s watching you at all times,” said Jacorey Jackson, 11, a sixth-grader at Bailey Middle School.

Classmate Kamryn Jefferson admitted that it feels a bit awkward to know adults can track her every movement on campus, but she understands the benefits. “It makes you mindful knowing you could get caught if you do something wrong,” she added.

Is that how we want youth to feel?

You can read the full news story in the Houston Chronicle.

Although these stories always throw in an “In the event of an emergency, the tags will help us….” theme, so far I haven’t heard about any such benefit actually accruing. The only benefits we’ve heard about have been financial ones for the district (and for the manufacturers of these devices, of course).

So…. should we use the “B” word? Should we ask whether the financial benefits balance the civil liberties, privacy, and psychological impact of putting kids under surveillance?

No, let’s not. I can’t really put a price on having a generation growing up believing that they are constantly under surveillance by their schools.

The Wave of the Future?

Let’s look into my handy crystal ball to see the middle schools of the next decades: the antiquated metal detectors installed by some schools post-Columbine to screen for weapons will be replaced by full body scanners – because we have to keep a safe environment for all kids. After passing through the body scanner, the student’s’ RFID tag will register them as “in school” and track their location throughout the day so that the district can get all of its attendance-related funds from the state.

Schools will continue to have zero tolerance policies in place whereby students can be expelled for having an aspirin in their purse. In order to keep the school safe from aspirin (which everyone knows could lead to harder drug use), schools will increase their searches of students’ backpacks and lockers. Drug-sniffing dogs will routinely prowl the hallways of the building.

The students will no longer need cash or a student ID for lunch. To pay, they will gaze into a biometric eye reader, the schools long having realized that grubby fingers and childhood cuts were defeating the fingerprint system they had lauded a few years back. Their lunch selections are automatically recorded and sent to the district so that parents can be contacted if the child isn’t eating what the state or district officials think they should be eating.

The bell rings at the end of the day and the tag sends a signal as they leave the building. Another sensor picks up when they board the bus to go home.

As they walk in the door, they stand in front of a web cam so their parent can ask them from work, “And how was your day, dear?”

If this is not the future you want for your children or grandchildren, what are you doing about it?

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