A San Antonio school district has dropped a proposed student-tracking system that equipped ID cards with radio frequency identification technology, thanks in part to a student's lawsuit that triggered a national debate over privacy and religion.
The North Independent School District started trying the RFID pilot program at two schools 14 months ago, but received a heap of criticism from those concerned about the smartID badges that pinpoint a student's location — even in the bathroom. The program is meant to help boost attendance.
The criticism culminated with a lawsuit by 15-year-old Andrea Hernandez, who said the tracking ID violated her religious beliefs and even likened it to the "mark of the beast" in the Bible.
Superintentendent Brian Woods said this week Hernandez's lawsuit was one of many reasons why the fourth largest school district in Texas cancelled the program.
“When we looked at the attendance rates, surveys of parents, staff and students on the program, how much effort it took to track down the students and make them wear the badges, and to a lesser degree, the court case and negative publicity, we decided to not pursue continuing with it,” the superintendent said, according to the San Antonio Express News.
The news was welcomed by the Hernandez family whose lawsuit landed in federal court, after her high school, Jay Science and Engineering Academy, transferred Andrea because she broke school policy and refused to wear the ID badge. The judge ruled that Andrea's decision not to wear the badge was secular and not religious.
"When we first heard about it, I never had a bigger smile in my life," Steve Hernandez, Andrea's father said to FOX 29 San Antonio.
Steve defended the lawsuit on religious grounds.
"In the book of Revelations it talks about if you don't take the mark of the beast you pretty much can't participate in the world's economy," Steve went on to say. "The correlation was just there, if you didn't wear the chip badge, you couldn't participate in school activities."
The manufacturer of the RFID badges told the San Antonio Express News that they have several other school districts and companies in the U.S. and around the world interested in their technology.
The North Independent School District spent $261,000 to equip 4,200 students in one high school and one middle school with the chips. The chips program was estimated to bring in $1.7 million in classroom funds thanks to incentives from Texas that reward schools with high attendance.
The decision is a win for Hernandez, who is still waiting on whether or not she can go back to her old school.
"Even if you win or lose," said Andrea, "it's the fact that you stood up and you said something and tried to make a difference."