Kids Tagged With RFID Chips? The Creepy New Technology Schools Use to Track Everything Kids Do -- And the Profit Motive Behind It
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School administrators argued that the software was installed to find lost or stolen computers. More telling, they admitted that they never told students or their parents about the remote access feature.
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Cameras are gaining an increasing presence in schools as part of student surveillance efforts. Popularly known as closed-circuit television (CCTV), digital video camera systems are being placed throughout schools as well as outside the buildings and even on school buses. In the school, cameras are located in cafeterias, hallways, gymnasiums and other interior spaces, including classrooms.
The rationale for camera surveillance is the ostensible need for an increase in security whether involving a Columbine-like threat, fist fights and/or property theft. These systems are intended to monitor the theft of an iPad from a locker, a fight in the parking lot after school dismissal or an argument between a student and a staff member. Two school CCTV system providers are CameraWatch and Axis Communications.
The data on school violence is confusing. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 1993 there were 42 homicides by students and 13 "serious violent crimes" — rape, sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault — per 1,000 students at primary and secondary schools. By 2010, the latest figures available, those numbers had decreased to two homicides and four violent crimes per 1,000 students.
However, the U.S. Department of Education found that during the 2005–2006 school year, 86 percent of public schools nationwide reported that one or more serious violent incidents, thefts or other crimes had occurred at their school, for a total of roughly 2.2 million crimes. That works out to about one crime reported for every 20 students. In addition, nearly 100,000 incidents of vandalism are reported in the U.S. public school system per year.
Nevertheless, the federal government has take up the issue of school-based surveillance in a big way. The Safe Schools/Healthy Students program was established in 1999 and has pumped more than $2 billion into some 365 urban, rural, suburban and tribal school districts.
One of the beneficiaries of this federal largess is the San Antonio, TX, school system. Like its embrace of RFID tracking, the school system has welcomed CCTV student surveillance. It received a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to install a CCTV system in school cafeterias and embed bar codes on food trays.
In a pilot program at five schools, the camera systems are intended to curb high rates of childhood obesity by monitoring student eating practices.
Dr. Roberto Trevino of the San Antonio-based Social and Health Research Center acknowledged, "We're going to snap a picture of the food tray at the cashier and we will know what has been served." San Antonio’s Pascual Gonzalez reported that John Jay High has 200 surveillance cameras and Anson Jones Middle School has about 90.
School officials in Lake County, FL, turned to this trash-monitoring program to deal with a growing financial problem. They estimate that students tossed $75,000 worth of food in the garbage.
Cafeteria surveillance systems are operating in Virginia school districts in Montgomery, Prince George’s, Prince William and Loudoun counties.
Nevertheless, it’s the ostensible threat from social violence that is driving more and more school districts to adopt CCTV surveillance systems.
In Biloxi, MS, 11 public schools have placed cameras not only in corridors and other common areas, but in all 500 classrooms as well. The principal of North Bay Elementary says she frequently peeks in on her classrooms from a computer monitor in her office. School administrators claim that surveillance has improved classroom discipline and raised test scores.