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Whether people think about this election’s hot button issues in this framework or not, many of our country’s so-called “social issues” are issues of privacy. While lawmakers fought over the economic and religious implications of hot topics like gay marriage, abortion, health care and cybersecurity, they were essentially deciding what level of privacy Americans should be entitled to under the law, and how strictly the Constitution should be interpreted to provide or deny that privacy.

I thought about this struggle between the private lives of citizens and the public decisions of legislators and administrations when I saw a story from Texas about high school sophomore Natalie Hernandez suing her school following her expulsion. Hernandez was expelled from her high school because she refused to wear her school’s name badge, which contains an RFID tracking device. Hernandez says the badge violates her religion – the badge is considered a “mark of the beast” – and by forcing her to wear it, the school district is violating her First Amendment rights. After the school offered her a name badge without the tracking device, which she refused, the school expelled her.

I think the religious aspect of this case is not as important as the general question of privacy . Yes, the “mark of the beast” claim allows Hernandez to make a First Amendment argument, and in cases like Wisconsin v. Yoder, the Supreme Court has made exceptions for religious beliefs in public education before. But there’s more to this case than a school wanting to know where a student is, and a Christian student refusing to let them because of religious reasons. This case is a sign of privacy debates in the age of technology.

The obvious conflict in this case is the right to privacy of the students, versus the necessity of tracking them of the administration. The school district argues that the RFID trackers are meant to keep students on the school premises during school hours, and to make sure that they’re in class when they should be. The students argue that the school is unnecessarily tracking their every move for reasons that could easily be solved by other solutions – and if the feed were accessible to others outside the school, they could put students in danger by making all of their movements traceable.

The second conflict is the how free schools are to begin with. With regards to constitutional rights to expression and privacy, schools are considered special places – they’re grouped with prisons and military bases in legal terms (prisons also often require tracking devices). And while the US Supreme Court decided that students and teachers do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate” in Tinker vs. Des Moines, schools can still do things like search students’ lockers, place restrictions on their school newspapers, and limit free expression by implementing and enforcing dress codes because they must balance the rights of the students with the order and safety of the school.

It makes sense that teachers and school administrators would want to know where students are when they’re at school – if they’re cutting P.E. and hanging out in the bathroom, or lingering a little longer at lunch than they should. But the attendance-boosting RFID cards aren't foolproof – what’s to say a student can’t pass off their ID card to a friend to carry around for the day? Furthermore, can’t teachers just pay attention to who is present and who isn't by taking attendance, and making a round of the hallways once and again? It would certainly save money, those trackers can’t be cheap.

To make students wear these tracking devices sets a dangerous precedent for limiting students’ privacy even further within an already restricted space, and put schools closer to prisons on the legal privacy spectrum. It takes accountability away from students, who should show up to class of their own volition, and takes away accountability from teachers, who should be paying attention to keeping students in class. Perhaps this method of tracking could be used at schools for at-risk students or juvenile facilities where students have made past infractions and require more attention, but it's excessive for the average kid at a public school that took longer to get to class than his peers.

Furthermore, Constitutional precedent only allows an invasion of students’ privacy to keep school order and to protect students’ safety. And while the RFID device does help to find where students are at all times and helps the administration ensure that students are in class when they say they are, this tracker badge requirement invades a student’s privacy more than necessary for a school to keep order– it’s a disproportionate response, and shouldn't be allowed to continue.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I quibble with your source, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BlackSheep1, FG

    (Alex Jones' 'InfoWars" is batshit crazy- I read about this on the Wired website, which imho has tons of credibility) but did note that the student has won round one:

    In San Antonio, Texas, high school sophomore Andrea Hernandez has been granted permission by a federal district court judge to continue attending school, despite her refusal to wear a student-tracking ID badge that continually monitors the whereabouts of every pupil on campus. Hernandez and her father filed a lawsuit after John Jay High School principal Robert Harris threatened Andrea with expulsion for refusing to wear the badge. He also stopped her from petitioning her fellow students against wearing one. The judge, who issued a restraining order on both counts, ruled Harris's actions were a violation of Hernandez's rights to freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion. Hernandez will also receive compensation, the amount of which will be determined during a trial, according to court documents.

    "When the powerless are shut out of the media, we will make the media irrelevant" ~♥~ Anonymous ~♥~

    by Lisa Lockwood on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 11:01:59 AM PST

  •  And of course, none of the students will (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    figure out the work arounds, hand off their name badges, remove and or  the tracking on their own, etc.  

    Just stupid.  A pointless waste of money.  Instead of tracking devices they should pay another teacher.

  •  Specifically in the case of schools, what is the (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "private life" that is being violated? Assuming the worst-that the school is keeping a log of all locations the student is within the school property every second-where is the potential for privacy violation?

    Are there any privacy concerns about the bathroom stall that the student uses? The speed that the student moves from class to class? That boy x stops at girl y's locker everyday?

    I doubt that the school is creating a long term log, but wants to be able to locate a student when needed (e.g., in the building, in classroom x), then the RFID solution makes lots of sense, they can be even less obtrusive if simply used to identify students when they go through a portal. In building or out of it, just like a EzPass. If a student leaves the building when he/she isn't supposed to then an alert can be issued. Doesn't mean that the student could be hanging in the loo smoking instead of in class.

    I just don't get it.

    The "number of the beast" nonsense is completely different. The student has a name, that name is used to identify her by her parents and by society at large. In a computer that name is a number. Is her name now a number that cannot be associated with her?

    •  All in all, it's just (0+ / 0-)

      another brick in the wall....

      The Big Brother nanny, coming soon to a school near you.
      You're really OK with this?
      Complacency with invasion of privacy begets even more invasive measures.

      "When the powerless are shut out of the media, we will make the media irrelevant" ~♥~ Anonymous ~♥~

      by Lisa Lockwood on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 01:41:32 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I have written previously about home schooling (0+ / 0-)

    my kids here in VA. There were multiple reasons for ultimately yanking them out of public school and teaching at home, but one of the straws that broke the camel's back came days after my son went back to school after an illness. It was the first illness - cold or flu, can't really remember now - that he'd had for a couple of years. He was out two or three days. We did the required "note from the Dr." so his absence was excused.

    I was alone in the house, upstairs, when someone started pounding on my front door. Pounding, like they were trying to break in, or like we were harboring criminals. It startled me so much I stood stock still, unable to decide what to do. The pounding came again and again until I ran downstairs, scared to death that some family member was hurt or dead. After all the drama, it turned out not to be a SWAT team, but one lone "school officer", a little pisher with little authority but a big sense of  his own importance. This asshole got in my face and heatedly told me my son was facing expulsion if he had any more sick days. Talk about overreach! I was bewildered and told him my son was only out three days and had a doctor's note. The school district allowed something like eleven days absence for illness before any consequences were incurred. Frankly, I don't remember much about the encounter now, because of the initial fear and then disbelief that clouded my mind. The next day I contacted the school to complain. I was told the "security officer" was new, and maybe was so excited by his new job that he overstepped a little.

    My husband and I saw so many of our neighbor's kids punished by their schools for silly things that, in our day, the teacher would have laughed off or taken care of herself. (One example: a little girl took a baggie of powdered sugar to school and told her friends it was cocaine. This kid was too young to even know what cocaine was, but she was expelled for over a week. That's just one, I have many stories.) We decided we did not want our children living in a police state, with fools having more power over them than we had. Schools are making kids the enemy, instead of the population they exist to serve.

    Very often we liberals think only crazy conservatives home school. I am surprised, frankly, that more liberal families don't! You don't have to teach to the test, you don't have to watch your kids lose a year if they have a bad teacher, your child can get sick and just rest without all the threats and worry about how many days missed. And best of all, no faux-police come pounding on the door.

  •  students' rights (0+ / 0-)

    OK, people, this one's a no brainer!  Students should not be forced to wear gps tracking devices.  In fact, I really don't think they should wear them under any circumstances,  forced or not.  Besides the obvious health risks, the biggest risk is to the health of our Constitution.  So, it's great to see students as well as adults speaking and standing up for it.
    When I was 13, I thought I had rights in school, too.  The Supreme Court agreed.  So, here's to the Constitution, students- You are keeping it alive!  
    Mary Beth Tinker

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