December 7 2012

San Antonio Students, Parents Fight for Students’ Privacy Rights in Schools

Vicki E. Alger

The fight for civil liberties continues in San Antonio.

The Northside Independent School District recently launched its controversial “Student Locator Project,” which requires students to carry ID badges equipped with radio frequency tracker chips. If they refuse, they could face fines, “involuntary transfers,” or suspensions.

John Jay High School officials insisted the trackers were needed to combat truancy and improve attendance rates. By improving attendance rates the Northside ISD hoped to get an additional $2 million in state funding—that’s on top of the reported $815 million in revenue they got in 2008-09 from local, state, and federal sources. (This is the latest year data are available, and note Northside’s expenditures exceeded $1 billion. Under “District Details,” click “Fiscal.”)

Want to make an extra $2 million? Here’s a suggestion for Northside ISD officials: slim down on administrative staff. The district as a whole has nearly 12,000 employees, whose combined base pay amounts to a staggering half billion dollars. This district employs no fewer than:

  • 164 assistant principals, $11.4 million (average base pay $69,000)
  • 107 principals, $8.7 million (average base pay, $84,000—note athletic directors below make more, which indicates where this district’s priorities are)
  • 17 district instructional program directors, $1.7 million (average base pay, $97,000)
  • 9 assistant superintendents, $1.1 million (average base pay $118,000)
  • 5 athletic directors, $435,000 (average base pay, 87,000)
  • 4 human resources directors, $365,000 (average base pay, $91,000)
  • 3 truant officers, $193,000 (average base pay, $64,000—the average teacher’s base salary is $51,000—another example of misplaced priorities)
  • 1 superintendent, base pay $270,000

One brave student and her father have been fighting Northside’s cash-for-civil-liberties scheme. Andrea Hernandez refused to wear the new tracker ID badge out of both privacy and religious concerns—but she continued to carry her old un-microchipped school ID, which school officials said last year would be valid for four years.

Scratch that.

In a November 13, 2012, letter, Principal Robert Harris and Superintendent Jay Sumpter informed Andrea that she was being tossed out of school and involuntarily transferred to William Howard Taft High School, where students are not tracked like cattle.

The following week a district court judge issued a temporary restraining order against the Northside district, but the matter’s far from settled.

The Hernandezes are now represented by an attorney from the Rutherford Institute. Institute President John W. Whitehead warned, “The court’s willingness to grant a temporary restraining order is a good first step, but there is still a long way to go—not just in this case, but dealing with the mindset, in general, that everyone needs to be monitored and controlled.”

Whitehead noted that regimes built on compliance have always started in government-run schools. “These ‘Student Locator’ programs are ultimately aimed at getting students used to living in a total surveillance state where there will be no privacy,” he added, “and wherever you go and whatever you text or email will be watched by the government.”

Local voters were denied the opportunity to consider the student tracker program because board members had it taken off the ballot. (So much for the principle of “local control.”) It’s also being reported that the IDs worn by faculty are “fake,” meaning they don’t have embedded chips. (Then again, teachers are a budget expense line item, so apparently it’s okay if districts officials don’t know where they are.)

But Andrea and her father are not the only ones refusing to accommodate the surveillance state.

At a recent school board meeting, one parent told board members, “You are creating prisoners, not model citizens.” Mr. Hernandez added “That’s what they’ve reduced our children to—inventory.”

Two bills are now making their way through the state legislature. One would ban the practice of using tracker chips altogether by Texas school districts. Another would permit their use, but only if students could opt out.

But students, parents, and taxpayers are not waiting around for legislators or judges to act. Around 300 Northside ISD students are refusing to wear their IDs. About 700 more members of the community have signed petitions against micro-chipping students, and parents are pulling their children out of school.

So it looks like San Antonio government schooling officials are losing more “inventory” than ever before. Maybe they should’ve just had a $2 million bake sale.

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