“I would say there is a school-to-prison pipeline, but there is also a prison-to-school pipeline. [The use of security hardware (cameras, metal detectors and retina detectors) and the practice of treating students as suspects are strategies of the criminal justice system, and they have been flowing into the schools.] It’s like a two-way street, a two-way system that mixes the educational and criminal justice systems. The end result is that we have schools in which the learning environment has been degraded and undermined because we are teaching kids to fear and feel that they are suspects at any particular time. Educators talk about the teachable moments. Unfortunately, public fear of kids, public hysteria around another Columbine, has prevented people from remembering that the mission of public schools is to educate.”—Annette Fuentes, author of Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse Becomes a Jail House
The battle playing out in San Antonio, Texas, over one student’s refusal to comply with a public school campaign to microchip students has nothing to do with security concerns and even less to do with academic priorities. What is driving this particular program, which requires students to carry “smart” identification cards embedded with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tracking devices, is money, pure and simple—or to put it more bluntly, this program is yet another example of the nefarious collusion between government bureaucracy and corporate America, a way for government officials to dance to the tune of the corporate state, while unhesitatingly selling students to the highest bidder.
Oblivious to the impact on students’ fundamental rights, school officials with the Northside Independent School District (NISD) in San Antonio, Texas, have embarked upon a crusade to foist ID badges embedded with RFID tags on about 4,200 students at Jay High School and Jones Middle School. These tags produce a radio signal that is tied to the students’ Social Security numbers, allowing the wearer’s precise movements to be constantly monitored. Although the school district already boasts 290 surveillance cameras, the cards which the students are required to wear will make it possible for school officials to track students’ whereabouts at all times. Teachers are even requiring students to wear the IDs when they want to use the bathroom. NISD officials plan to eventually expand the $500,000 program to the district’s 112 schools, with a student population of 100,000.
Hoping to achieve full student compliance with the profit-driven Student Locator Project, school officials have actually gone so far as to offer gift cards, pizza parties and raffle prizes to classes with the highest ID badge participation rates. By any other name, you would call this bribery. No such rewards, however, await the students like 15-year-old Andrea Hernandez who resist the program on principle. Since voicing her objection to the program on religious grounds, Andrea has been stigmatized, penalized and discriminated against. Those who, like Andrea Hernandez, refuse to wear the SmartID badge will also be forced to stand in separate lunch lines, denied participation in student government and activities, and prohibited from making certain commercial exchanges at school.
School officials at Jay High School reportedly offered to quietly remove the tracking chip from Andrea Hernandez’s card if the sophomore would agree to wear the new ID, stop criticizing the program and publicly support the initiative. Andrea refused on principle, because she believes wearing the chipless Student Locator ID badge would signal that she endorses a program that not only violates her conscience but also runs afoul of her constitutional rights. As a result, Andrea now faces expulsion for refusing to participate in the school’s money-making scheme. (The parallels to another so-called “necessary” taxpayer-funded program, full-body x-ray scanners in airports, are evident. Of course, those scanners, which are now being relegated to a moldering Texas warehouse, turned out to be little more than a pointless yet costly means of enriching the security industrial complex.)