School District Backs Down on Its Plan to Chip Student IDs

The huge Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas has announced it was scrapping its program of micro-chipping student IDs with RFID technology.

The huge Northside Independent School District (NISD) in San Antonio, Texas announced July 16 it was scrapping its widely distrusted program of micro-chipping student IDs with RFID technology — which brave NISD student Andrea Hernandez opposed with all her might. With unwavering support from her father, she sparked a groundswell that overcame the NISD administration’s designs.

“Oh thank you, Jesus,” an elated Andrea exclaimed during a July 16 interview with this writer.

Andrea recalled that her situation emerged last fall, when this writer broke the story nationally. Asked about the NISD’s decision to drop the forced micro-chipping program, Andreas father, Steven Hernandez, almost at a loss for words, replied that as recently as a few weeks ago, he was “in a dark valley” and victory seemed worlds away.

“Now, it’s become a worldwide movement,” he stressed. He plans to assist concerned Americans who have contacted him from Florida, Louisiana and Pennsylvania, as they confront their own student-surveillance programs.

The Hernandez family’s battle started just as the 2012-2013 school year began, when the NISD announced this so-called “pilot” program, with a rather stiff startup cost of $525,000 and about $140,000 per year to maintain it, at just two schools: Anson Jones Middle School and John Jay High School.

Andrea, on the basis of her religious-liberty and privacy concerns, made the pivotal decision, as a John Jay sophomore, of refusing to wear her “chipped” badge. By January 2013, with many fellow students following her example, she was kicked out of John Jay’s academy and forced to attend a conventional high school that lacked the programs she wanted.

Critics maintain that Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) systems could expose students to savvy stalkers off campus who have the means to track the signal which these microchips emit. Others believe that this technology—promoted by NISD as a means to monitor students’ attendance and keep tabs on their whereabouts—gradually conditions students to see constant surveillance as a normal part of life. Moreover, there are health concerns over constant radio-wave exposure.

In challenging the RFID program, the Hernandezes experienced frequent setbacks, including an unfavorable federal court decision. Furthermore, Steven’s valiant efforts at the Texas legislature in Austin—in hopes of passing House Bill 101, to give students in all Texas public schools the option of not wearing chipped IDs—was recently killed at the last possible minute after it had passed in both chambers.

Yet, in a world cursed by nonstop attempts to close the book on liberty, Andrea’s resistance caused unstoppable tremors—in the NISD student body, across Texas and the nation, and even overseas—that ultimately won out, although Steven says he’ll closely watch NISD’s future actions regarding any new RFID plans that could emerge.

For now, NISD Superintendent Brian Woods said: “When we looked at the attendance rates, surveys of parents ... how much effort it took to track down students and make them wear the badges, and to a lesser degree, the court case and negative publicity, we decided not to [continue] it.”

“The NISD owes the people of San Antonio an apology,” Steven summarized. “They wasted $525,000. I think they owe that money back to the community.”

He figures, fairly enough, that such a pay-back should happen with “administrative salary cuts,” while “reinvesting in new teachers and bus drivers.” And while noting teachers in general could be paid better, he strongly emphasized: “Stop building new schools,” since floating bonds to get investors’ money, which has to be paid back over eons by the school district’s residents, with interest, means more property taxes to underwrite such debts. Any more construction projects in the NISD would add even more buildings, when the district already has about 100,000 students in more than100 buildings.

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Mark Anderson is a veteran journalist who divides his time between Texas and Michigan. Email him at [email protected].