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Tracking chips grow in popularity, but not likely for MISD

By Joe Holloway jholloway@marshallnewsmessenger.com
Oct. 9, 2012 at 10 p.m.


Northside ISD in San Antonio became the latest school district in Texas to start using RFID (radio-frequency identification) chips to better track students' whereabouts as part of a pilot program at two of its schools last week.

The school district hopes the chips, embedded in student ID cards, will lead to better attendance records and, therefore, more funding from the state.

"Every school in Texas gets funding based on their average daily attendance," explained Marshall ISD Director of Communications David Weaver. "When classes turn in their attendance rolls, that's entered into the system at the campus level. Then those figures are generated and sent to the state for funding."

Weaver said Marshall ISD uses a system called "Skyward Student."

"This is used to track student absences and general directory information for each student," he said. "We also have a phone communication system with parents when students are not in class and no absence has been called in."

According to the Skyward Inc. website, www.skyward.com, the company has a partnership with the State of Texas and its student-information system is used in 204 districts statewide.

"It's not just absence reports. It's a student database is what it is," said Weaver. "Schedules, parents names, phone numbers, all that sort of stuff."

Weaver said the system may not be as "high tech" as one with RFID chips, but that it seems to be working well for the school district.

"We don't have locators on kids IDs or anything like that. It's just entered in by hand at the campus level through the office," he said. "Ours is pretty cut and dry. If you're not in class, you either have an excused absence, an unexcused absence, or we need to go find out where you are and that's where the communication with the parents comes in when a kid is not in class or where they're supposed to be.

"As far as I know, everything is working out good."

Northside ISD's website, www.nisd.net, lists increased student safety and security as one benefit of the RFID-laden student ID cards.

"Our students' parents expect that we always know where their children are in our schools," it reads.

It also says the cards "provide access to the library and cafeteria, serve as a photo ID, and allow for the purchase of tickets to schools' extracurricular activities" among other uses that are yet to be rolled out.

Very high-tech aspects. But, the main draw for districts remains state attendance dollars.

"It's actually a pretty clever way to secure more funding from the state," reads an article on ChipFreeSchools.com, a website dedicated to "protecting children from forced RFID tracking."

According to the website, schools can lose as much as $175,000 per day if students aren't in their seats when their homeroom teachers call roll.

"However, if the student is on campus, they're technically present," it reads. "So instead of chasing down the stragglers, teachers…can just tap into their handy RFID-powered database."

Most opponents of tracking students with RFID chips voice concerns over privacy and treating kids like livestock, which have long been tracked using the technology. Northside ISD's program sparked a protest from a group of parents outside of Jay High School, one of the two campuses the district is using to test the program.

Many seem to overlook the obvious pitfalls of students simply taking their IDs off to leave campus and school districts thinking they know where a student is when they really don't.

The obvious was not lost on Weaver.

"That seems like to me that it's not worth spending the money on," he said. "There's just too many ways around it."

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