Remember the girl who got expelled from John Jay High School in San Antonio, Texas for refusing to use her tracking ID card due to religious reasons?
Well, the Northside Independent School District confirmed this week that it has ended its controversial Radio Frequency Identification System, or RFID, tracking system. The initiative was supposed to increase student attendance, but ended up triggering a debate on privacy, and even religious beliefs.
For Andrea Hernandez, the sophomore who got expelled in January for refusing to use her RFID ID, the badge signifies the “mark of the beast” — as described in Revelations 13 in the Bible — and is considered sinful.
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“In response to the recent news that the Northside Independent School District may be doing away with the RFID tracking program, I would like to say that my daughter Andrea and I are overwhelmed with happiness and joy,” said Steve Hernandez in a statement this week. “We sincerely believe with all our hearts that this program puts our salvation at risk. It is our sincerely-held belief that our religious beliefs have been infringed upon. My daughter and our family are not putting our salvation at risk for NISD.”
But Pascual Gonzalez, spokesperson for the district, says he wants to make sure it’s known that the reason for the program’s cancellation had nothing to do with the Hernandez family, who first filed suit against the school district in November 2012. In fact, he says the federal court sided with the school district as did the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“We did not cancel it because the kids didn’t want it,” says Gonzalez. “We felt the investment was not worth the return and the additional workload of the staff to monitor and follow up on the system.”
Northside’s school board approved the pilot program in May 2012 for John Jay High and Anson Jones Middle schools — totaling 4,200 students — because they had the lowest attendance rates. The tracking system was supposed to be a way to improve attendance.
“We said we would run this pilot for one year, and at the end of this year we would look at the benchmarks we set to see if we reached our goals,” says Gonzalez. “The attendance rates did go up but not in a significant way. The increase in attendance could not be directly tied to the student locator system.”
Although the technology worked well, he says $271,659 was spent on implementing the technology and attendance only increased .5 percent in John Jay High School and .7 percent in Anson Jones Middle School.
Gonzalez also says the district gave the students a survey, about a month ago, which resulted in mostly mixed and negative reactions — ranging from privacy, to forgetting to wear them, to the cost of the program and replacement costs.
As far as Andrea Hernandez goes, Gonzalez says she’s free to come back to her school, a magnet school specializing in science and engineering, if she desires.
“She can apply to return to the school,” says Gonzalez. “When she refused to follow the rules, she had to leave that school and go to her home campus. Now that the rule is no longer in place, she is allowed to reapply.”
The Hernandez family feels, however, that she shouldn’t have to reapply.
“If it is true about this RFID program going away at John Jay High School and Anson Jones, I believe that my daughter should be reinstated into John Jay Science and Engineering Academy at John Jay High School without having to reapply and that NISD should reinstate her with no recourse or malice,” said Steve Hernandez.
The Rutherford Institute, a non-profit providing legal assistance to the Hernandez family, says the lawsuit against the school for expelling her over the RFID badges is still in the courts and remains unresolved. Andrea has not yet been accepted back to the magnet school.
“This decision by Texas school officials to end the student locator program is proof that change is possible if Americans care enough to take a stand and make their discontent heard,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead and president of The Rutherford Institute. “As Andrea Hernandez and her family showed, the best way to ensure that your government officials hear you is by never giving up, never backing down, and never remaining silent—even when things seem hopeless.”