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RFIDs on School IDs? One School District Thinks So

Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

Should schools be able to keep tabs on a student’s location?

Because Texas schools are funded per student in attendance, budgets hinge on the accuracy of morning roll call. The use of Radio Frequency Identification tags, or RFIDs, can certainly improve accuracy, but some consider them an invasion of privacy.

RFIDs are small beacons that both transmit and receive information. They’re often used to track product inventory. But some school districts have attached RFIDs to students’ photo ID cards, letting administrators know which students are on campus.

RFIDs are similar to two-way radios: a transmitter sends a signal to the tag, and the tag responds.  The transmitter then reports to computer software. 

RFIDs can be used to track nearly anything. One future for the technology may be in retail. Experts have envisioned RFIDs on products, enabling shoppers to bypass check-out lines and simply walk out of the door. Software would automatically deduct the bill from shoppers’ bank accounts.

But the use of RFIDs in schools is new. Controversy recently arose at the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, where nearly 4200 students will be a part of a RFID pilot program this fall. Because the technology can pinpoint a student’s location, some parents are worried it can be used for the wrong purposes, like identity theft and kidnapping.

But Northside spokesperson Pascual Gonzalez tells KUT News only school administrators will operate software for the RFIDs, and students can only be tracked on campus.

Though the technology is pricey – it will cost Northside nearly half a million dollars to institute and another $100,000 to maintain – the reward from Texas Legislature for higher attendance figures at Northside ISD is expected to total approximately $1.7 million.

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