Court authorities in Texas will be able to track students with a history of skipping school under a new program requiring them to wear ankle bracelets with Global Positioning System monitoring.
But at least one group is worried the ankle bracelets will infringe on students' privacy.
Linda Penn, a Bexar County justice of the peace, said she anticipates that about 50 students from four San Antonio-area school districts — likely to be mostly high schoolers — will wear the anklets during the six-month pilot program announced Friday. She said the time the students wear the anklets will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
"We are at a critical point in our time where we can either educate or incarcerate," Penn said, linking truancy with juvenile delinquency and later criminal activity. "We can teach them now or run the risk of possible incarceration later on in life. I don't want to see the latter."
Penn said students in the program will wear the ankle bracelets full-time and will not be able to remove them. They'll be selected as they come through her court, and Penn will target truant students with gang affiliations, those with a history of running away and skipping school and those who have been through her court multiple times.
"Students and parents must understand that attending school is not optional," Penn said. "When they fail to attend school, they are breaking the law."
Penn said the electronic monitoring is part of a comprehensive program she started four years ago to reduce truancy. She cited programs in Midland and Dallas as having success with similar electronic monitoring measures.
But Terri Burke, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said requiring students to wear the GPS bracelets full-time raises privacy concerns.
"We're all for keeping kids in school, and we applaud any efforts to make that happen," Burke said. "But the privacy issue: What happens with the bracelet or anklet after school is out? Is that appropriate for the school or courts to know where and what this person is doing outside of school?"
Asked why the students have to wear the ankle bracelet all the time instead of just the school day, Penn cited problems with runaways.
"Sometimes, as I said, students are runaways. Parents don't know where they are," Penn said. "So it's for the safety of the child, as well as the safety of the community."
Burke said truant students and runaway kids are different issues.
Asked specifically about privacy concerns, Penn said she didn't have a comment. But, she added, her priority is "looking for the good of making these children accountable ... it's for the concern of these children getting an education."