Court correct to permit digital tracking of students on campus

Given recent history of school shootings, violence & excessive truancy at schools nationwide, an ID that tracks students while on school grounds could help advance student safety Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, DC, January 15, 2012 - Last week, a Texas judge upheld the right of a San Antonio, Texas school system to use digital tracking devices on students to cut down on truancy. 

The school district was tempted with the lure of an additional $2 million in state funding if it improved school attendance records, and selected John Jay High School and Anson Jones Middle School to test the pilot program for their Radio Frequency Identification System or RFID. 

Students were required to carry identifications implanted with a micro chip as part of the school’s “Student Locator Program.”  The identifications sent out a signal which enabled school officials to track students whereabouts during school hours. The identifications turned off at the end of the school day. 

United States District Judge Orlando Garcia tossed a request for a preliminary injunction that a sophomore student Andrea Hernandez and her father filed, claiming religious objections.  Steven Hernandez said as an evangelical Christian, he felt the chips equated to a biblical mark of the beast. 

Associated Press

Several tech blogs, civil rights groups and the controversial hack group Anonymous supported the Hernandez’s, as a Slate column summarized, but they all ignored a major flaw in the case. The school offered Hernandez, the only person in the pilot program to object, to wear a badge without the chip as a compromise but she and dad refused. 

In a 25-page ruling, the judge ultimately decided the family’s objection that wearing the modified badge would be tantamount to supporting the program was a secular objection not worthy of religious rights protection. 

The concern for privacy, the possibility of nefarious uses if the badge stolen, and impinging on civil liberties is valid. 

However, those concerns are countered by the nation’s recent violent history of school shootings, numerous examples of illicit activities, including sexual activity and drug use on school campuses, which give administrators the right to to track students whereabouts during school hours.

 Parents entrust teachers, faculty and administrators to harbor their children and teens in safe environments when in their custody. 

And the overwhelming majority of the 4,200 students that were part of the pilot program agreed and supported the program. 

“You never know when a disaster is going to happen and to know where your child is at least you have that card to know where your kid’s at all times,” parent Michelle Esquivel told a local Fox news affiliate.  FOX 29.

The “smart” ID cards in the pilot program, which cost about $260,000, also enabled students to obtain lunch and breakfast in the cafeteria and check out library books, a school official said. 

Kids will be kids and in some of the most troubled schools, getting and keeping kids in classrooms is the first step to making sure they are at least marginally educated before they go out into the working world.

A religious rights organization, the Rutherford Institution, says it will appeal the decision.

 


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Jeneba Ghatt
Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt is a former journalist turned lawyer turned citizen journalist. Currently, she manages her boutique communications law firm, where she has represented small businesses and nationally-recognized civil and consumer rights organizations before the United States Supreme Court, federal courts and the FCC. She also covers the White House and US Congress for the online news site Politic365.com while authoring her own influential blog JenebaSpeaks.com which is frequently accessed by top policy makers and think tanks, and the investment community. JenebaSpeaks.com focuses on the intersection of politics and technology and reports on policies and rules in the communications and tech sector.
 
Before opening her law firm, The Ghatt Law Group, which was the first communications firm owned by women and minorities, Jeneba regulated Comcast and Starpower as the Assistant General Counsel for the District of Columbia's Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications, and at one point was the only communications regulatory attorney in the entire city. She is founding member and policy chair for a new trade association, the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs and provides advice and counsel to new businesses in the tech industry, particularly small businesses owned by women and minorities.

Born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, but raised in the United States by her Catholic mom and Muslim dad, she started her college career creating web content for one of the earliest websites in history while working part time for the University of Maryland's Office of Technology. Following her graduation from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, she founded and co-wrote one of the earliest blogs and since then has gone on to found and author six different widely read and influential blogs. She was one of only 22 writers and bloggers to attend the first White House summit for African American media.
 
She holds a Certificate in Communications Law Studies from Catholic; a Juris Doctor from there as well, and a Master of Law in advocacy degree from the Georgetown University Law Center where she first taught and lectured as a Staff Attorney and Graduate fellow at that law school's Institute for Public Representation. She later went on to teach Media Law at the University of Maryland at College Park and guest lecture at Yale Law School and Penn State University, College of Telecommunications. She is well skilled and versed with social media and manages several Twitter, Facebook, Linked In accounts and groups.
 
She sits on the board of several non profits and trade associations.

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