You can skip school, but you can’t hide.
In the latest incarnation of Big Brother (or, more appropriately, Big Mother/Father), a Texas school district has decided to hand out ID cards with computer chips to track the whereabouts of students. School officials have sold the idea to parents by arguing it’s a good safety measure. And it will make sure a principal knows right away if kids have snuck off campus when they should be learning calculus.
The San Antonio school district isn’t the first to use technology to track its students. A similar system is already in place in a couple of Houston school districts. And in Brazil, 20,000 grade-school students are wearing so-called “intelligent uniforms” imbedded with locator chips under the school crest. As the education secretary of Vitoria Da Conquista told the Associated Press: “We noticed that many parents would bring their children to school but would not see if they actually entered the building because they always left in a hurry to get to work on time. They would always be surprised when told the number of time their children skipped class.”
The Texas tracking system, which will be used by 6,000 high-school and middle-school students, has received mixed reviews from parents, with one mom telling the San Antonio Express-News that she hoped teachers might try to “motivate” kids to stay in class, rather than the school policing them when they didn’t show up. (The chips only track the specific location of students on school grounds, alerting the school if they leave during school hours.)
The American Civil Liberties Union has, not surprisingly, raised the alarm, though their chief argument appears not to be that the system is an invasion of student autonomy, but that the cards can be easily copied by would-be kidnappers who could abscond with students and then dupe the school into believing they were safe.
The program will cost more than $500,000 to launch, and more than $130,000 to run every year. Nevertheless, one obvious motivation for the program is a cash grab: Texas school districts get their funding based on attendance. If the tracking system deters truancy, and puts more students in their seats, more money flows in. (School officials are vowing the system will pay for itself.)
But at least one critical school trustee, M’Lissa M. Chumbly, raised this point at a recent public meeting: How would teachers feel if the administration started tracking their whereabouts?
Presumably, by the time the students are working adults, they’ll be used to it.
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