Feb. 14, 2005 – A small single-school district in Sutter, California launched a program requiring students to wear radio frequency identification around their necks at all times, permitting school officials to track studentsâ€™ attendance and whereabouts with handheld computers.
Located about 50 miles north of Sacramento, the rural Brittan Elementary School, which has about 587 students, could be the first in the country to use the radio frequency identification (RFID) devices for tracking attendance. Each tag contains a studentâ€™s photo, name, grade level, and the same type of tracking technology often used to monitor cattle, prisoners and warehouse inventory.
Special equipment was installed in classroom doorways and bathrooms to read unique identification numbers that are embedded in the studentsâ€™ badges. When students pass under the scanners, the information is transmitted to teachers outfitted with handheld electronic devices.
The tracking program began last month, after school officials failed to gather input from parents before its launch.
Concerned about the privacy rights of their 13-year-old, who was threatened with disciplinary action for not wearing the RFID device, Michelle and Jeff Tatro contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and filed a complaint with the district. "Our belief is these children have never done anything to give up some of their civil rights," Michelle Tatro told the San Francisco Chronicle. "They've never done anything wrong, and they're being tracked."
InCom, which was founded by two Sutter High School teachers who designed the InClass RFID system, offered school officials several thousand dollars to test the program at Brittan Elementary. The company will be promoting the InClass system next week, at an American Association of School Administrators conference in San Antonio, Texas. Brittanâ€™s attorney, Paul Nicholas Boylan, told Wired News that the school district would earn royalties on sales of the system to other schools.
The ACLU of Northern California, concerned that Brittan Elementary could set a precedent that other school districts will follow, is urging the district to reconsider the potential safety and civil liberties implications of the RFID tracking system. Nicole Ozer, Technology and Civil Liberties Policy Director for the group, said the badges jeopardize the safety of students by broadcasting the identity and location of students to anyone with an RFID chip reader -- technology that will eventually be cheaper and more accessible.
"In addition to raising serious safety concerns, requiring students to wear RFID badges at school creates a prison-like atmosphere," wrote Ozer in a letter to Brittan school officials. "Their use is demeaning to all children, regardless of age, creating an atmosphere of disrespect for and distrust of students."
School officials will also meet this week to decide the future of the program. In the meantime, InCom has temporarily disabled the system it set up at Brittan and says it has deleted all previous information it collected on the students.