A San Antonio district is so concerned that it can't keep tabs of its kids that it has decided to insert RFID tags into their IDs. This will, apparently, save money, as well as help the counting process.
It seems that certain schools in Texas are having trouble with their math.
No, it isn't the kids. It's the school administrators. They keep losing kids. And, well, state funding depends, at least to some extent, on attendance.
So Northside Independent School District in San Antonio has decided to insert a little technology into the problem. For it intends to insert RFID chips into the kids' IDs, so that it will know precisely where little Chet is at all times.
The school's logic appears to be quite simple. These darn kids keep disappearing and that's costing them money. They need to be counted at the beginning of every sunny day. And you never know what kids are going to get up to anyway.
So, beginning with John Jay High School and Anson Jones Middle School, the district will implement its new chips.
"We want to harness the power of (the) technology to make schools safer, know where our students are all the time in a school, and increase revenues," school district spokesman Pascual Gonzalez told the Express-News.
It does seem a shame that money is mentioned in all of this. One might have been able to understand it if this was purely a safety issue, but clearly it isn't. Indeed, in Houston, two school districts already enjoy this technology and it has reportedly brought them hundreds of thousands of extra dollars.
Parents appear to be divided on the issue. One can surely understand misgivings. The school district says that tags will only work when the children are on school property.
However, after cases such as the one in Philadelphia were a school was sued for allegedly spying on a student off-campus (the school settled for around $600,000), some parents will surely be concerned that the kids will be snooped upon.
It's not as if this sort of tagging offers absolute security. What if an ID is stolen? What if the system is hacked and someone with evil purpose can quite literally track the movements of all the kids?
At heart, though, this does seem to be more about money than safety. Education cuts are causing some schools to find new ways to find revenue. I wonder if there hadn't been a financial incentive for the schools, would they have bothered?
I know that there are many parents who would dearly love to spy on their children. Some, because they think their kids might be up to no good. Some, because they think their kids might be up to something so very not good that it might be illegal.
So I am rather moved with concern at a spying accusation that has reportedly been leveled by parents at a Philadelphia-area school district.
According to Computerworld, a class action lawsuit has been served upon the Lower Merion School District, based in Ardmore, Pa. It declares that the school district has taken on surveillance methods of which a sex video store owner or that nice Stasi man in the movie "The Lives of Others" would have been proud.
What is alleged to have occurred is that the parents of student Blake Robbins received word in November from an official at Harriton High School that their son has been involved in "improper behavior in his home."
I can find no specifics as to what this improper behavior was supposed to be, or, indeed, how improper it might have been. However, the official allegedly showed the parents a photo taken by his school-issued laptop Webcam. This photo was not one intentionally taken by Robbins, but rather remotely, by the school.
The story, you see, heads in a direction somewhere east of disturbing. The Robbins family says an assistant principal at Harriton High, Lindy Matsko, confirmed that the school district "in fact has the ability to remotely activate the Webcam contained in a student's personal laptop computer issued by the school district at any time it chose, and to view and capture whatever images were in front of the Webcam."
The Philadelphia Daily News reported that the 17-page Robbins complaint makes what seems an obvious but still material point: "Many of the images captured and intercepted may consist of images of minors, and their parents or friends, in compromising or embarrassing positions, including, but not limited to, in various stages of dress or undress."
One can hardly be taken aback to discover that the lawsuit alleges violations of the Fourth Amendment, as well as transgressions of the Electronic Communication Privacy Act, the Computer Fraud Abuse Act, the Stored Communications Act, Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act, the Pennsylvania Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act, and Pennsylvania common law.
Perhaps this tale makes you wonder about the mental workings of any school district that believes there is something vaguely conscionable about what appears to be covert surveillance. But we are living in strange times.
Harriton High School is no slummy establishment. It offers the International Baccalaureate program, for goodness' sake. And its principal, Steve Kline, offers on its Web site that the school's mission is for its students to "enter to learn [and] go forth to serve."
I am told by an alumna of the school that it enjoys its fair share of parents who are plastic surgeons, lawyers, and the like. And the school itself boasts that "Harriton students annually rank among the highest-scoring students on the SATs in Pennsylvania."
This is the sister school of Lower Merion High, which used to educate Kobe Bryant. Here might be the clincher, though: Harriton is in Rosemont, the town that purportedly served as the inspiration for Pine Valley, Pa., in "All My Children." This is Beverly Hills, 9021Snow.
Perhaps the most disconcerting part of this story, if it does turn out to be as the Robbins tell it, is to consider the school official who allegedly decided to commence spying procedures. What might have caused a school official to spy at that precise moment on that precise student? Had this alleged facility been used before? Or had it even been used regularly? The school has yet to offer a reply to the lawsuit.
Perhaps those of you who have kids fortunate enough to have school-issued laptops might just do a little checking over the next few days. Just in case.
It says the remote-activation Webcam system has been deactivated, effective immediately. It further states that the feature was enabled only "to track lost, stolen, and missing laptops."
While declaring that the system was only able to take "a still image of the operator and the operator's screen," the School District says it "has not used the tracking feature or Webcam for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever."
The school district says it is continuing to review the matter.