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Kids Tagged With RFID Chips? The Creepy New Technology Schools Use to Track Everything Kids Do -- And the Profit Motive Behind It

It can't be called "education."

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In Austin, TX, some 1,700 students in eight high schools, with parent permission, are being outfitted with GPS devices to help cut truancy rates. According to local news reports, the program is being run by Dallas-based AIM Truancy Solutions that boasts that its system increases student attendance by around 12 percent.

The increasing use of student monitoring is not limited to Texas. The AIM Truancy Solutions’ GPS tracking program has been adopted in Baltimore, MD, and is now being tested by the Anaheim (CA) Union High School District. 

In Anaheim, about 75 seventh- and eighth-graders from Dale and South Junior High Schools are taking part in the pilot program. Students with four or more unexcused absences have “volunteered” to carry a handheld GPS device. Participation in the program will enable the students to avoid being prosecuted and a potential stay in juvenile hall. 

Each school day, the delinquent students get an automated “wake-up” phone call reminding them that they need to get to school on time. In addition, five times a day they are required to enter a code that tracks their locations: as they leave for school, when they arrive at school, at lunchtime, when they leave school and at 8pm. These students are also assigned an adult “coach” who calls them at least three times a week to see how they are doing and help them find effective ways to make sure they get to school.

Like San Antonio, Anaheim schools lose about $35 per day for each absent student. Local school officials believe the program can pay for itself as more students attend classes.

The Palos Heights School District in Illinois is attaching GPS locators to students' backpacks in order to “locate kids in seconds” both in and out of school. The electronic reader registers date, time and location of kids. Administrators justify the tracking and surveillance of students outside of the classroom as for their safety.

A very different monitoring effort is underway on Long Island, NY, in an effort to fight obesity.  Selected Bay Shore students designated overweight or obese are being equipped with a wristwatch-like devices that count heartbeats, detect motion and even track students’ sleeping habits. Similar programs are underway in schools in St. Louis, MO, and South Orange, NJ.

In 2010, the Contra Costa County School District received a $50,000 grant to put RFID tags into basketball jerseys that students are supposed to wear while at school. The bulk of the grant went toward setting up sensors around the school to read the tags and computer systems to actually monitor where each student is. The program tracks preschool children.

The Electronic Freedom Foundation warns “… an RFID chip allows for far more than that minimal record-keeping. Instead, it provides the potential for nearly constant monitoring of a child's physical location.” The consequences of such tracking are serious: “If RFID records show a child moving around a lot, could she be tagged as hyperactive? If he doesn't move around a lot, could he get a reputation for laziness?”

Not all student-tracking programs work out as planned. In 2005, the Brittan Elementary School in Sutter, CA, abandoned an experimental Tag and Track program. Like similar programs, this RFID tracking used mandatory ID badges to track children's movements in and around the school. Promoted by a local vendor, InCom, the schools board pulled the plug after the EFF and ACLU raised concerns that the program breached children's right to privacy.

In 2010, however, a far graver incident of illegal monitoring was revealed in Pennsylvania’s Lower Merion School District.  Blake Robbins, a Harriton High School sophomore, reported that a school official confronted him for engaging in "improper behavior" at his home. As the story unraveled, it was revealed that the laptops the school issued to high-school students came equipped with special software that enabled school administrators to spy on students and even their families in their homes.

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